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As bus strike finishes first week, city working to mitigate impact

The city is taking new steps to get students to school after a full week without regular school bus service.

With attendance in schools for students with disabilities below two-thirds for the fifth straight day, the Department of Education is moving both to help families with transportation and to get new bus drivers on the road faster.

Department officials announced today that they had revised the terms of the contracts that they plan to offer bus companies so that the companies can begin transporting students sooner than Sept. 1, the original date the new contracts were supposed to begin. It was the department’s omission of seniority protections from the contract terms that led the school bus drivers union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, to call a strike last week.

The department also unveiled details of a new initiative, first announced at a meeting about special education last week, to assist families with transportation costs.

The initiative is meant to address shortcomings in the department’s strategy of reimbursing families for bringing their children to and from school in taxis. Under that plan, families must front the payments, then submit their receipts and wait up to two weeks for reimbursements.

“But what if parents don’t have any money?” a teacher asked GothamSchools last week. “You’ll reimburse them, but who’s going to give them the money to get there?”

Now, students with disabilities who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and cannot travel on public transportation can have the department pick up their car fare. The reimbursement program was created in collaboration with the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which regulates cabs in the city, according to the department.

Bryan Stromer, a student with a disability who has been taking cabs during the bus strike, reported about the department’s announcement in a piece for GothamSchools last week.

“This sounds like a great partial solution,” he wrote. “But it does not solve the fact that this strike has put unnecessary stress on over 150,000 students, including 52,000 with disabilities, and their families.”

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