NEW YORK—Virtually all of the 102 students at the Cooke Center Grammar School, which educates children with special needs, ride the school bus every day. On the first day of the citywide school bus strike Wednesday, one-third of the students at the school’s Lower East Side location did not attend class.
“More than a quarter of the students were missing on the second day,” according to Francis Tabone, Head of School.
“There were zero buses today,” said Kendra Volk, a teacher at the school.
While some buses did bring kids to the school on the first day of the strike, no buses showed up on the second day. A parent said that protesters prevented the nonunion buses from leaving bus depots.
“We are a completely special needs school so transportation is very critical for these kids,” said Tabone. “There are mobility issues, they cannot travel alone, even a subway ride that is crowded and noisy is difficult for our students who have a spectrum of different sensitivity issues. So it’s very difficult.”
Parents of the students that did attend the second day came from as far as East Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens. Some had to be late to work, some had to leave their jobs early.
“I have to come into work late and leave work early,” said Margorie Moses.
Moses had to come to work late and had leave at 2:30 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. in order to drop off and pick up her son, Markel, 8.
“They have to make money also, just like any other parents,” Moses said referring to the striking drivers. “But it does affect us, it affects the whole city.”
The citywide school bus strike was announced in the afternoon on Monday. The strike started Wednesday and is in its second day as of Thursday evening, affecting more than 150,000 children in New York City’s schools.
“Mayor Michael Bloomberg has the power to stop the strike,” said Michael Cordiello, president of the striking Amalgamated Transit Union’s Local 1181.
The strike is a culmination of a standoff between the union and the mayor’s office that started when the city issued a set of bids for school bus contracts in December. The bids did not include a provision that protects the jobs of drivers with seniority when a bus company loses its contract with the city. If the provision were in place, the company that won the bid would have to hire additional drivers based on seniority.
The provision is referred to as the Employee Protection Provision (EPP), and was the subject of a prior dispute between the unions and the city in 2011. It was also the reason for the city’s last bus strike in 1979. Mayor Bloomberg claims that the provisions demanded by the union are illegal and cannot be provided in the city’s bid for contracts, a claim challenged by Cordiello and the union’s legal counsel.
“I’m pro-union so I think the unions have the best interests of people. If they have to strike that’s what they have to do to get attention,” said Randy Triplett, a nanny, who had to skip house chores in order to pick up, Jacob, 10, while his brother had to be picked up by a friend from P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side.
The Cooke Center Grammar School is a private school for children with learning disabilities. The city contracts school buses for all of the schools in the city, including private and parochial schools. With some of the buses missing Wednesday and none in service Thursday the parents stepped up to get the kids to school.
“One parent would drop a couple of kids off. Another parent would pick another one up,” said Tabone. It’s difficult to manage some of our kids who have mobility issues or cognitive or behavioral issues because asking a parent to take care of three or four kids is really tricky.”
“Today was great but today was like a novelty, we’ll see if it lasts a week or two,” Tabone added.
The school currently plans to make study material available via email for parents of children who cannot make it to school.
“We waited for him for an hour, but he never showed up,” said Amy Alago referring to her bus driver.
Alago had to choose which of her children would be coming to school late and spent an hour on the train from Brooklyn to drop her daughter, Courtney, 8, late to school in the morning.
“I have to leave work to come pick up my daughter. My wife has to drop her off before going to work,” said Michael Allen, an East Brooklyn resident.
Allen said that while the drivers want protective provisions, the city is seeking the lowest bid with the most advantages for the taxpayers.
“Two opposing positions and the students that have disabilities suffer the most,” Allen added. “I think that what the unions are basically doing is hurting the taxpayer and most of all they’re hurting the children that need these services the most.”
With additional reporting by Deborah Yun
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