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After abuse, a call for school bus drivers to get new training

All school bus drivers would have to be re-trained immediately and citizens could call in concerns about individual drivers to a city hotline, if the city followed a list of demands Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum issued yesterday. The demands come on the heels of reports of school bus abuse, including a 7-year-old stranded on a bus in Queens this month, a four-year-old Brooklyn child stranded on a school bus last month, and a severely disabled 22-year-old left on a freezing school bus overnight January 1.

Asked whether the city will follow Gotbaum’s demands, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, Marge Feinberg, said, “We have an effective policy in place that suspends bus personnel for half a year for the first infraction and decertifies them if it happens again.” According to the policy, drivers who leave children alone on a bus have their licenses suspended for 180 days. The licenses are revoked if they commit an error a second time. School officials also pointed out that two of the three most recent cases of abuse happened on private buses, not school buses run by the DOE. (The 4-year-old in Brooklyn was riding a DOE school bus.)

In a press release, Gotbaum points out that while cosmetologists in the city have to register 1,000 hours of training, school bus drivers are required to put in just 10 hours of training and two three-hour refresher courses a year. She also cites a 2007 Daily News investigation that found that the Department of Education hid 225 cases of bus abuse, including one case where a bus driver beat a student with special needs. (Since then, the Department of Education has taken steps to prevent hidden abuse in the future, hiring a new chief manager of the investigative unit and a slew of experienced investigators, Feinberg said.)

Gotbaum’s full list of demands is below the jump.

1) Immediately re-train all bus drivers and matrons;
2) Establish a policy that would require any bus driver/matron who leaves a child on the bus to be discharged;
3) Establish a policy that would discharge any bus driver/matron with three safety violations in a two year period;
4) Require that the DOE track safety statistics of bus companies, individual drivers, and routes and make this data publically available;
5) Establish a “How’s My Driving? Call 311” campaign with signs on the back of all New York City school buses.

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