The strike would impact 152,000 students, 54,000 of whom have disabilities and require special transportation services, according to the DOE. The DOE is not releasing the numbers of Brooklyn families who might be impacted, but given that Brooklyn has nearly 300,000 students enrolled system-wide in public schools, it will likely be in the thousands.
In the event of a strike, parents and guardians are being asked to make alternative plans. Below are some tips on what's available from the City. ( Note: Strikes can take odd twists and turns: The following is based on a letter to parents and guardians from the Education Chancellor dated January 4, 2013.)
1. Take the Subway or MTA Bus Instead: Students Can Get a Free MetroCardIf your child takes a schoolbus and there's a strike, they can take the MTA bus or subway instead. Free MetroCards are being made available at the schools. The DOE says, "Parents should ask at the school office," but hopefully the schools will make or send home an announcement so that hundreds of parents are not swamping these small offices all at the same time.
- How the free MetroCard works: Children and parents can obtain from their school a free Metrocard that is "activated," according to a DOE spokesperson. It will remain activated through the end of the strike. Then, system-wide, these MetroCards will be de-activated. So you only need one per child or, if relevant, adult. And yes, they are free.
Note: To paint a picture of the severity of the strike threat, if every yellow bus-riding child took the subways and MTA buses, that could mean an extra 150,000 or more riders (kids and their adult shepherds) on the subways in the morning rush and after school.
2. Free MetroCard for Parent or Guardian of K-2 ChildrenBecause, obviously, little kids are not taking public transit to school on their own, the DOE says, "Parents of general education children in grades K-2 may also request a MetroCard for the parent or guardian to act as the child’s escort to school."
Tip: If you are a parent of an older child, it's worth asking: Does this policy mean a third grader is supposed to get to school alone on mass transit?
3. $.55 Reimbursement if You Drive Your Child to School, Or CarpoolThe DOE has said that "in areas where public transportation between home and school is not readily available, we are offering reimbursement for actual transportation costs." Parents who drive their children to school will be reimbursed at 55 cents per mile.
Tip: The best bet is to carpool. It's easier, and you can get some reimbursement for the effort. However, it is unclear from the Chancellor's letter whether every car involved gets 55 cents per mile, or if that's 55 cents per mile per child. Of course, if you are taking 4 children, there's a big difference. If relevant, ask.
Note: The City doesn't exactly need more expenses and school disruption after the week of cancelled classes and damage done to schools by October's Hurricane Sandy. But, the DOE has no alternative, because a lot of kids, especially in Brooklyn, don't live comfortably near mass transit that will get them to school.
4. Reimbursement for Car Service or Cab if Your Child Lives Far from Mass TransitParents who use a taxi or car service to transport their child to school will be reimbursed for the trip upon completion of reimbursement forms that includes a receipt for provided services.
In his letter of Jan. 4, 2013 to parents and guardians, Education Chancellor Walcott said, "As an alternative to MetroCards for parents whose children receive busing from their home, or students in grades K-6 receiving yellow bus service from a school bus stop who live in areas where public transportation between home and school is not readily available."
- How to get reimbursement for cabs and car services: Requests for reimbursements should be made weekly on forms to be posted on the DOE web site and in every relevant school’s general office.
5. Free MetroCard for Parent or Guardian of Disabled & Certain IEP StudentsPreschoolers and children with Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) who need transportation from their home directly to their school can get a free Metrocard. (To learn how it works, see item #1 above.)
6. Prepare for Kids to Stay Home & Get Lessons Delivered OnlineSome kids won't be able to get to school without the yellow bus service. The Department of Education promised that they "will be posting materials online for every grade and core subject so that students can continue their learning at home during the strike."
Tip: Prepare a workspace at home for your child. If you use a computer that your child doesn't normally use, make sure your personal email is closed and take any other safeguards necessary to ensure his or her cybersafety, and your own privacy, too. If the DOE sends material that needs printing and you don't have a home printer, find a friend or neighbor who has one who can help you out.
Note: Harvard and MIT are offering classes online these days, too. It's not the worst experience for a child to have a distance learning experience.
7. What's This All About?What's this labor dispute all about? The Jan. 4, 2013 letter from Chancellor Walcott says, " Our current contracts for these bus services will expire at the end of June and competitive bidding will result in the best service at the best price for the City. Please be assured that the bid also will include the same safety provisions that are in place today. Safety is our top priority and will continue to be so under new contracts.
The bus drivers’ and escorts’ union has told us that if the bid does not include an Employee Protection Provision, which the court ruled is illegal to include in our bus bid, then they may strike. A service disruption or strike would affect our most vulnerable children with disabilities the hardest and their families. It also would affect all families and their children who rely on yellow bus service and especially those children whose education was interrupted due to Hurricane Sandy.
For the latest updates, call 311 or visit the DOE website.