Last summer, Belinda Barnett-Andrea began noticing a problem with her son Frankie when he came home on a school bus from his District 75 program at a school in Bayside.
“He comes home ill,” she said. “He comes home late sometimes, flushed, turning all kinds of colors.”
She discovered that his school bus, which took him on the 30- to 45-minute commute to and from school from his St. Albans home, did not have air conditioning.
Legally, in New York City, that should not have happened.
Many school buses in the city don’t have air conditioning, or matrons and drivers won’t put it on, despite a city law requiring air conditioning to be on in school buses whenever the temperature is over 70 degrees. This is especially important for students who need to go to school in the hotter summer months, especially the 23,000 special education students who attend classes from June until September.
Barnett-Andrea and Manhattan-based Parents to Improve Student Transportation, a group formed to fight for better bus service, including air conditioning, held a rally outside a school bus yard in Ozone Park last summer. They said many buses do not have air conditioning and on some equipped with AC, the bus drivers don’t use them or do not know how to turn them on.
Now, Public Advocate Letitia James is taking up the cause again, coming after a Manhattan student with autism called 911 when she got sick on a school bus with no air conditioning, ending up in the emergency room.
James said she wants better enforcement of the mandate that every school bus in the city has air conditioning and is calling on the city Department of Education to make sure air conditioning is standard on all buses when they sign contracts with bus operators.
“We must do everything we can to ensure the health and safety of our most vulnerable students,” James said a press conference July 11 at City Hall. “I join parents and school advocates in calling on the DOE to do a better job in overseeing their contracts with bus companies that do not comply with the NYC Administrative Code.”
The DOE did not immediately respond to James’ comments, but a source said the department requires school buses follow protocol and have cracked down on those that do not.
But James says that’s not the case.
“Too many parents state that they have called the DOE’s Office of Pupil Transportation, yet the office has not been responsive to their concerns,” she said in a statement.