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.

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