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NYC children trade lazy days of summer for new school year of transportation, diversity and safety challenges


Students will return to school on Thursday. (slovegrove/Getty Images)

More than 1 million public school students in New York City start the new school year Thursday — and parents hope the nation’s largest school system will ace a must-pass list of tests.

The city’s sprawling yellow bus system — plagued by delayed arrivals, lost buses, and spotty communication at the start of the 2018-19 school calendar — will be the first challenge, transporting more than 100,000 students, and avoiding the messy start that sparked almost 27,000 bus complaints in the first three days of school last year.

A city council law passed in January required the Education Department to install GPS trackers on all its buses, a requirement the agency said it’s met. But parents still won’t have real time information about the whereabouts of their students’ buses until the city releases a new app it’s developing with the rideshare app Via.

Ultimately, the changes “will be judged by our children getting to and from school safely and in a timely fashion,” City Council Member Mark Treyger told the Daily News.

Bus debacles have been especially nightmarish for the city’s special education students, who often rely on specialized transportation.

Conditions for the city’s more than 200,000 students with disabilities will also remain under sharp scrutiny. Complaints from parents who say the city is not providing legally mandated services have surged, and advocates say even parents who go through a lengthy appeals process face costly delays.

Other parents are unsure how the rollout of a new admissions system for students applying to city middle and high schools will change the sometimes hectic spring months. City officials say the plan, which consolidates the school application process into one round and automatically places students on wait lists of schools they’re not accepted to, will streamline the process.

“It’s still very new for families,” said Naomi Peña, a parent and president of the Community Education Council for lower Manhattan’s District 1.

There are lingering questions as well about how the city will confront mounting revelations of lead-based paint in school buildings.

For the first time, the Education Department released the results of inspections custodians conduct in aging buildings this summer, and found the chipping toxic paint in more than 1,800 classrooms for kids in first grade and below. The city has vowed to be more transparent about the inspections, and to begin examining common areas like gyms and cafeterias.

And a proposal by a city diversity group to attack persistent racial imbalance by overhauling middle school admissions and replacing the current gifted-and-talented program with enrichment for a wider base of students remains, for now, just a conversation.

“What besides a public conversation is going to happen?" asked David Bloomfield, a professor of education at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center. “And is that enough?”