New York City schools may be back in session in September, but 90,000 students might no longer have a school bus to take them.
The city Department of Education is considering a plan to make buses available only for special-needs students whose transportation is legally required, a source knowledgeable about the system told The Post.
“My understanding is that they’re not going to provide general education busing,” the insider said.
A DOE spokeswoman confirmed the agency is “assessing” a truncated transportation plan.
“Our priority will be to provide busing to students with [Individualized Education Plan] mandates for transportation, and we are working to develop alternatives in partnerships with the MTA and [Taxi and Limousine Commission],” said DOE spokeswoman Miranda Barbot.
Barbot would not say whether students will have to take subways, buses or cabs.
It normally would cost the DOE $1.25 billion a year to transport 150,000 kids.
Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza on Wednesday announced that schools would reopen for a “blended model” of instruction in which students would return to classrooms for alternating one-, two- or three-day weeks. Online instruction would supplement the schedule.
So far, the DOE has flatly ignored parents’ questions about busing. In conference calls with parents and DOE reps this week, queries about transportation went unanswered, said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York.
“They didn’t have a plan that they shared,” Sweet said. “Families often have big problems with busing in the best of times, so I anticipate this is going to be a very big challenge.”
The DOE has provided busing to students in kindergarten through second grade who live more than a half-mile from their school and for those in third through sixth grade who live more than a mile away. Those in grades seven and up have been offered MetroCards.
Staten Island is the only borough that offers busing to seventh and eighth graders because of poor public transit, streets lacking sidewalks and middle schools that are miles apart.
“The entire island is a transit desert,” said Councilman Joe Borelli, who represents the borough’s South Shore and has a son going into kindergarten. “It takes 30 minutes to get an Uber, and I haven’t seen a yellow cab here since Noah floated by on an ark. How in heaven’s sake are public-school kids going to even get to the school on the few days they’re allowed to be there?”
Losing buses would make the school reopening even tougher on working parents.
“Add families who live far away from schools to the list of people the reopening plan screws,” Borelli said.
Sara Catalinotto, head of Parents to Improve School Transportation, said busing seems like an afterthought to the city.
“The students who needed busing before still need it,” she said.
Catalinotto said forcing students onto crowded subways did not seem safe in the middle of a pandemic.
“That doesn’t make me comfortable for the security of those children,” Catalinotto said.
Parents of special needs students, who often attend schools outside their districts, said they’ve heard nothing about how children will be protected from the coronavirus. The city buses about 52,000 special-needs students.
“How would school buses be disinfected?” asked Amy Ming Tsai, a parent who is on a busing committee for District 75, which supports kids with multiple disabilities. “Would it be a daily clean-up of the interior of the bus? Would it be after every route? Clear guidance has to be given to parents.”
She recalled past horror stories of students being left on buses or drivers taking the wrong route, and wondered about the confusion that could erupt with the blended learning schedule.
“We don’t want to go backwards,” she said.
The union that represents bus drivers, attendants and some mechanics for 10 major school-bus companies contracted by the DOE has heard nothing about safety protocols, said Michael Cordiello, president of ATU local 1181.
But the union has made several suggestions, Cordiello said.
“We’re asking that all children get their temperature taken” by an attendant, Cordiello said. Drivers, attendants, students — and even adults who drop off or pick up students — should wear masks, Cordiello said. And students would sit at a recommended distance — such as one to a seat in every other seat.
In addition, “I want a study done on airflow on the bus, to see if there’s fresh air exchange inside the vehicle,” Cordiello said.
Meanwhile, the DOE would face an immense task to get thousands of school buses for all students tuned up and inspected.
“That’s something that will take weeks and weeks,” a DOE staffer said.