Classroom instruction in city public schools begins in a little more than two weeks, but tens of thousands of students who rely on yellow school bus transportation still aren't sure how they will get there.
"Parents are really sort of waiting, biting their nails, anxiously trying to figure out how their kids are going to get to school, if their kids are kids that need busing,” said Maggie Moroff, special education policy coordinator at Advocates for Children.
In a normal year, 150,000 students take a yellow bus to a city public school. But with at least 35 percent of students planning to learn remotely, and the rest dividing their time between in-classroom and remote instruction, the Education Department is scrambling to redraw its bus routes.
The city still hasn't finalized a single school bus contract, let alone tell any family where and at what time their child will take the bus. That has many parents, already stressed by an unprecedented school year, worried.
"Nobody knows exactly what the in-person is going to look like anyway, but if you can’t get to school then that’s not even an option,” Moroff said.
Education Department spokeswoman Danielle Filson tried to quell the anxiety.
“We’re working to finalize safe transportation plans by the first day of school, and we gave bus companies their route assignments this week. Busing is a top priority to have in place by the first day, and we’ll be providing families with their student specific bus information soon," Filson said.
Many parents of children with special needs are especially on edge. Moroff said yellow buses serve some of the city's most vulnerable students.
"A lot of the students that Advocates for Children works with, if they don’t have busing, they can’t get to school and they don’t have the options of taking a cab,” she said. “They really need the busing in place if they have disabilities, if they’re kids in foster care, if they’re kids who are homeless. We’re very worried."
Some students with disabilities are legally entitled to bus transportation, and their routes will be prioritized, the DOE said.
"We are absolutely in our planning, prioritizing students with individual education plans. So, our special education students are obviously a priority for us,” Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said earlier this week.
It's one priority among many, as the clock ticks down toward the start of the new academic year.