Monday, October 15, 2018

Parent of autistic child on how bill requiring tracking on school buses could be improved

The below testimony on school busing was submitted to the City Council by an Inwood parent with an autistic daughter who prefers to remain anonymous for the purpose of preserving her child’s privacy.  she is commenting on Int 1099-2018, a bill to be discussed today at Council hearings requiring tracking devices on all NYC school buses.

Dear Members of the NYC Council,
I submit the following testimony to be included in the official record of the NYC City Council re Int 1099-2018:
Thank you for taking the time to read my testimony. My name is [removed].  I am a parent of a elementary school-aged child with an IEP in District 6 in the Inwood neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. I have intentionally left her name and diagnosis out of my testimony to protect her privacy. Please help guard her privacy by referring to me and my testimony by my middle name, Nicole.
Busing my child to school has been a challenge. Chancellor’s regulations allow one-way bus times of
90 minutes for in borough and 180 minutes for out-of-borough transportation. Given a 6 hour school day, this means that a child may spend 40% of his or her school day actually in transit on a bus. It is thus a vital part of a students learning experience.
The proposed ‘school bus tracking app’ could be very beneficial to many students and their parents if implemented conscientiously.
It is my personal experience that the $40 ($75) initial investment in Verizon’s LG Gizmo Pal 1 (now 2) plus $5 monthly charge have enabled my child to have the benefit of this proposed legislation. It uses both GPS and cell-phone tracking to allow me to check my child’s progress to and from school. This tool has kept my mind at ease those days when her in borough route has stretched into 100 minutes or longer — no crash, just late. It has flagged the days when the bus got her late to school, and she missed out on vital learning time. It has illustrated poorly planned, inefficient routes. It is a tool that should be available to all parents.
I hope this legislation will provide an opportunity to improve school transportation for all students.
I think that the current draft needs to improve in the following ways:
(1) GPS is too narrow of a definition for a bus tracking device. The technology for this type of tracking device can be challenging in a dense metropolitan area such as New York City. I suggest requiring the tracking device to have at least 2-fold technology: 1:GPS as well as 2:GSM/CDMA (cellular phone triangulation). Moreover, the legislation should be written in such a way as it ‘grows’ with the technological standards for tracking.
(2) It is not clear who the owner of the cellular phones referenced in Int1099-2018. The mandate should clarify that these are owned by NYC DoE, and the hardware used / software installed should be highly regulated.
(3) The protocol for use of cellular phones / radios by bus drivers should be clarified.  Is it permissible to use these while driving? Only while stopped? Are these intended for the bus matron instead?
(4) There is no explicit treatment for how the data gathered by these tracking devices will be protected from unintentional distribution (hacking) or regulated/prohibited for intentional distribution (3rd party data sharing by NYC DoE, OPT, busing companies). Will students’ privacy be protected?
(5) I suggest that the following be added to the top for context and to emphasize the importance of school busing to students getting a free and appropriate public education: “Transportation is a related service for special education students as defined by the Federal IDEA 2004 law — 34 CFR §300.34(c)(16)”
(6) There is no protocol for how the data will be used to improve student transportation: *Will too-long (out of IEP compliance) routes be flagged automatically?
*Will ‘lemon’ buses (those with chronic break-downs) be flagged automatically? 
*Will drivers be penalized for speeding?
*Will drivers be penalized for waiting an extra minute when a child has trouble transitioning onto the bus?
*Will the efficacy of the route be assessed and poorly designed routes flagged for improvement?
*Will adjustments be automated for predictable traffic conditions (i.e., garbage pickup times on narrow streets)?
*Will there be an automated process to give students ‘make up’ time when the bus is late getting the student to school?
*Will special education students continue to be segregated from non-special education students during transportation? (Will they be allowed to integrate with supports?) Or will there continue to be dual, segregated routes?
I do hope that you can incorporate some of these suggestions into the current draft. I also note that, if transportation is required to adhere to the IEP guidelines wrt limited time transportation that NYC DoE may be compelled to operate schools in more wide-spread locations. I think that this change would also benefit many students.

Thank you.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

In new UFT contract, parents cut out of in "School based Collaborative Committees" in struggling schools

The UFT posted a version of the new contract Memorandum of Agreement that is non-searchable which make it very difficult to analyze.  I had to download the document and resave it  in a more advanced  version of Adobe to do a search for words.  This searchable doc is now posted on Google Drive here. This is some of what I discovered:
The word “parent” is mentioned only a handful of times.  For the new supposedly innovative “Collaborative School model” which will be used in struggling schools, no parents will necessarily be included on either the “Central Committee” to oversee the initiative nor any of the “School Based Collaborative Committees” to develop improvement plans in each school, that is, unless the Principal chooses to appoint parents for his or her 50% share of these committees: 
“The “("Central Committee") composed of an equal number of representatives appointed by the UFT President and the Chancellor…
Each school in the Collaborative School Model shall establish a School Based Collaborative Committee ("School Committee"). Fifty percent of the Committee shall be comprised of UFT represented employees, selected by the Union. The remaining fifty percent shall include the principal and other stakeholders selected by the principal, exclusive of UFT-represented employees. The Committee will include no less than 6 and no more than 12 members.”
The MOA does include this statement in regards the School Leadership Teams, made up of half parents which are supposed to be in charge of developing school improvement plans, according to state law:
The School Committee shall consult with the SLT to ensure that the plan is aligned and not in conflict with the goals· of the school's CEP. Nothing herein is meant to change or diminish the rights and responsibilities of the SLT or its members, including all processes as defined by Education law and the Chancellor's Regulations.”
But this is a flimsy attempt at a fig leaf and it is evident  that the School-based Collaborative Committees will supplant the SLTs and really be in charge of making improvement plans for the school, while the Central Committee will take the place of the District Leadership Teams that also include parents.
To add insult to injury, these School-based Collaborative Committees will be allowed to meet during “Parent Engagement time”:
The School Committee shall meet twice monthly at a mutually agreeable time, including but not limited to during the workday, OPW and Parent Engagement time, throughout the school year and additionally as needed. Trained facilitators selected and assigned by the Central Committee will assist and meet with the School Committees.
So the extra eighty minutes per week  that under Joel Klein was devoted to to small group instruction for struggling students, and then re-directed in the last teacher contract by Carmen Farina towards more PD and supposed “parent engagement,” is now going to be given up in these schools to School-based Collaborative Committee meetings, a collaboration which does not have to include parents.
In all this seems to not only conflict with state law on SLTs but also the enhanced parent participation that is supposed to be required by ESSA in schools identified for comprehensive or targeted support
So what else will happen in these schools? 
“Schools in the Bronx Collaborative Schools Model will have priority consideration for centrally funded initiatives such as Equity and Excellence initiatives, air conditioning, physical education and others that align to the schools' goals. "
But apparently not class size reduction, which actually might help them improve.
Speaking of priorities other than class size reduction, the MOA also includes a long list of out-of-classroom teacher positions that will receive "Additional Compensation" in exchange for spending time in ways other than teaching kids:

I can’t find how much more “Peer collaborative Teachers, Teacher Ambassadors, Master Teachers, or “Model Teachers” will be paid, or how many there will be; the only compensation figures I can find are for Teacher Development Facilitators and Teacher Team leaders: 
“The Teacher Development Facilitator shall receive additional compensation in the amount of $3,000 per school term for the term of this Agreement above the applicable teacher salary in accordance with this Agreement… The possible expansion of this role to include the support of new, in-service teachers will be determined by Joint Committee on Teacher Leadership Initiatives.
“The Teacher Team Leader shall receive additional compensation of $14,000 a year for the term of this agreement above the applicable teacher salary in accordance with this Agreement.”
If you discover anything more of interest in the MOA, please leave your comments below.