On the first day of school, David Rothman put his 5-year-old son Miro on a bus in Jackson Heights, Queens. About an hour and a half later, he got a call that would make any parent’s heart sink. Miro was at the wrong school, an administrator told him.
"She said: ‘He came to our school. We’re not sure who dropped him off. But he doesn’t go to this school, and we don’t know what to do with him. We’re lucky we found your name in his bag,' " Mr. Rothman said.
The driver, working for the Varsity bus company, had taken the kindergartner to Public School 151 in Woodside instead of P.S. 150 in Sunnyside. Varsity apologized for the incident, explaining that there are always mix-ups at the beginning of the year, and Miro got to the correct school. But Mr. Rothman says problems come up regularly. He remembers one day last year when his third-grade daughter's bus broke down.
"No one called us," Mr. Rothman said. "A lot of time went by. We didn’t know where she was. We got a phone call from my daughter — they made her call; the school didn’t even call.”
Parents interviewed this week in both Queens and the Bronx say communication is not easy when it comes to bus routes and emergencies. Martha Rivera waits at a stop on 204th Street for a bus taking students to the Bronx Community Charter School. Her line, operated by Grandpa's Bus Company, has already had two breakdowns this month, leaving parents scrambling.
“We were always told to call the school and they would have the latest information," Ms. Rivera said. "But sometimes they don’t have the information accurately. We do the carpool and everything, try to take as many kids as possible.”
The New York Post reported on Thursday that a bus full of special education students were lost for hours the first week of school while their parents tried unsuccessfully to get information from the Office of Pupil Transportation and the bus company.
Until the drivers settle into the new year, or a better system for tracking buses comes along, school advocates say parents have to pay attention to what is happening on their bus routes. Here are some tips for making the bus ride smoother:
* Call the Office of Pupil Transportation customer service line at 718-392-8855. Marge Feinberg, a Department of Education spokeswoman, says if there is a bus breakdown, or a driver gets delayed or lost, the bus company is supposed to call both the pupil transportation center and the school, which then alerts the parents.
* Call your local school and figure out the best contact on all things related to the buses. Put that number on speed dial.
* See what other parents are saying on the Facebook group organized by a Brooklyn mother, Crystal Alfano-Gallegos. It’s called New York City Parents Fed Up With Transportation Troubles.
* Share your tips and travails with other parents here on SchoolBook.