Some kids in foster care still aren’t getting school buses three weeks into the new year—despite a promise in last year’s budget to “ensure busing" for those students, advocates alleged Thursday.
City officials committed in last year’s budget to use existing resources to provide school buses to kids in foster care so they don’t have to switch schools. But advocates say the city Education Department’s policy of providing buses only to students near existing bus routes — and offering only Metrocards to the others — is leaving kids and foster agencies in the lurch.
“What we’ve seen this year is a continuation of the same frustrations and problems as last year,” said Cara Chambers, the director of an education project at the Legal Aid Society.
That Legal Aid Society and 24 other organizations sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio Thursday urging the city to “honor its commitment” to provide buses.
State and federal law requires schools to provide students in foster care transportation so they don’t have to switch schools — a disruption that can send already traumatized students spiraling.
The city Education Department says it complies with the law by providing buses to some students and Metrocards to others.
“We work closely with ACS, and last year we provided busing to the majority of students in foster care who requested it,” said Miranda Barbot, an Education Department spokeswoman.
But foster agencies said they’re not comfortable sending young kids on public transit alone. That forces agencies into the difficult choice of assigning staff to accompany students on sometimes long trips or switching kids’ schools.
“A Metrocard is entirely inadequate,” said Chambers. “You might as well give the child a scooter and tell them to find their own way to school.”
The most recent data from the city Education Department showed that 60% of bus requests for students in foster care were approved, because they either lived close enough to an existing bus route or are guaranteed busing through special education plans, according to Chambers. But that leaves hundreds of kids and foster parents to find their own ways to school.
“We had staff members who had to wake up at 5 a.m.” to chaperone kids in their care on the way to school, said Brenda Triplett, the education director at Children’s Aid, a foster care agency.
The Education Department hired a foster care transportation coordinator this year to oversee all foster care-related transportation requests and speed up bus requests. Advocates said transportation staffers have been quicker to address complaints so far this year, but without a policy to guarantee busing and resources to back it up, little will change.
“It doesn’t resolve the underlying issue,” Chambers said.
The ongoing transportation challenges have even made it harder to recruit potential foster parents, Chambers said. Prospective parents have declined to take in foster kids in part because of the burden of having to get them to far off schools without buses, Chambers said.
Fewer than 1,000 kids in foster care would need the additional buses, Chambers said.
“It’s not a huge number of extra kids but it means everything to them," she said. "They’re the most likely to drop out of school…if we can preserve school stability, it’s going to benefit them, and going to save the DOE a lot of money in the long run as well.