Meeting at Toras Emes Reviews Transportation Services for Special Education


school-busThe Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) of the New York City Department of Education (DOE) broke ice for the 2007-2008 school year in its appointment of Rabbi Moshe Ausfresser, former assistant principal of Yeshiva Toras Emes Kaminetz, as school bus transportation coordinator for yeshivos and girls schools, to interface with yeshivos being served by OPT. The appointment, as well as Rabbi Ausfresser’s outstanding effectiveness, has greatly enhanced OPT’s responsiveness overall and especially for Jewish schools.

A special forum to review and improve transportation services for special education (SE) students was held on Wednesday, May 13, at Yeshiva Toras Emes (Kaminetz) at 1904 Avenue N in Brooklyn. Representatives of non-public schools serving SE pupils were invited to participate and meet with key members of the Committee of Special Education (CSE).

Observant Jewish schools represent a formidable percentage in New York State, with a concentration in New York City. The City of New York provides full or partial transportation to students, K through 12. Depending on the grade of, and how far the student lives from his or her school, the NYC Department of Education will provide full or subsidized transportation.

The DOE provides full transportation for all students living more than one-and-a-half miles from their schools. SE pupils are provided with enhanced D2D (door-to-door) services. When needed and approved by physician review, a specialized transportation assistant (carry kid / porter) would participate in the pick-up and return of the child. Such special personnel are fully trained and certified.

Important officials speaking at the meeting included Eric Goldstein, OPT Chief Executive Director; Michael Gersch, SE Deputy Executive Director; Matt Berlin, Executive Director of Pupil Transportation; Bill Heslin, Director of SE Transportation; Sherwyn James, Director of Pre-K SE; and Rabbi Ausfresser.

Among the subjects explored were early intervention services for children from birth to the age of three; 250 Pre-K schools serving more than 13,000 Pre-K students; and the efforts being given for all special needs cases.

Consistent throughout the presentation was a “customer service” concept that is attentive and responsive. The special phone number, 718-392-8855, is designated as the customer service phone number. Rabbi Ausfresser indicated that he had personally visited 71 SE schools in the past school year. Bill Heslin noted that OPT has a fleet of diverse types of vehicles that are used for different situations.

Among the discussions, focus was given to concerns such as bus drivers’ good intentions in giving students candies and food, which may not be consistent with the child’s health or religious diet and music that may be played by the bus driver must also be appropriate to the age and background of the children being bused. Every complaint received is thoroughly investigated and fully reported to all concerned parties, with an eye towards implementing improvements where applicable.

The speakers also stressed the availability of bus services for field trips, especially on those holidays when public school is not in session. The speakers encouraged that scheduling be made well in advance, so as to afford the maximum accommodation possible. Further, yeshivos must take into account that the regular Monday to Friday schedules must be personally adjusted by each school to adapt to the usual short Friday sessions.

Of course, the safety of child passengers received great emphasis. A bus should discharge children 10 feet from a curb. Children have to be continuously instructed, that once disembarked, they must never return to the bus to retrieve forgotten items regardless if it’s a coat, schoolbooks, or homework. Children must repeatedly be warned never to seek items that may have fallen under a school bus. Parents must be educated in dressing their children with accessory items that are short, never long, i.e., shawls and scarves should not be long enough to get caught between bus doors.

{Elisha Newscenter/Machberes}