“Please accept our apologies,” Carranza said. “I am absolutely committed to making sure that what you experienced at the start of this school year will never happen again.”
Western Queens parents faced nightmarish scenarios in September, when some buses came hours late to pick up or drop off their children. Some students reportedly said drivers even asked them how to get to their school or got lost.
Carranza said once he became aware of those problems, the Department of Education (DOE) acted “swiftly,” reassigning routes and taking corrective actions. He also tapped Kevin Moran, a “can-do fixer,” as his senior adviser for transportation services.
Moran has already met with District 30 families several times, and plans to meet again going forward as part of an advisory group.
The chancellor testified before the City Council the day before, and announced that he ordered an “extensive and impartial” audit by the firm Ernst & Young into all components of the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) contract process.
“I won’t rest until I’m confident our students are getting the high-quality, safe and reliable school bus service they deserve everyday,” Carranza said at the hearing.
In addition to meeting with families, school staff and vendors, Moran told the Council that to establish more regular communication with families, DOE created a new Twitter handle that will give updates on events that impact bus service. The information is on the DOE website as well.
The DOE will also review its OPT call center and is adding additional staff.
But the City Council has introduced a package of legislation to ensure more transparency from OPT. The bills would require OPT to report on policies and procedures for handling complaints, require school buses to be equipped with two-way radios, cell phones and GPS system, and require the DOE to report on average student transportation times.
In response to the proposed legislation, Moran said the DOE is looking forward to working with the City Council to meet the goals of additional transparency.
Carranza spent the rest of the town hall at PS 11 in Woodside addressing students and parents’ concerns, including questions about integration, class sizes and school safety.
He said he supports not only a bottom-up approach to integration, in which students, parents and officials come up with a district plan together, but also a top-down approach, with directives from the DOE.
Districts 1, 3 and 15 have already had approved desegregation plans, and eight other districts are actively planning their own engagement processes, he said. The city is offering a $2 million grant to help any district that wants to start their own plan.
One component that desegregation plans have used so far is eliminating screens for schools. Explaining the history of screens in the city’s public schools, Carranza said the reason why many of those policies were enacted was because the DOE was worried about losing white middle-class families.
“We were losing enrollment. We made it so we have screens so all families can send kids to school, and say I send my kids to public schools,” he said. “I know that sounds harsh and a little tough –– check the history.”
The chancellor also continued to pitch his plan to reform the admissions process to the city’s eight elite high schools. He argued that out of 165 specialized schools in the country, only eight use a single test as the sole determinant of who gets to enter those schools. All eight are in New York City.
“As an educator, there is no reliable or valid justification for that single test,” he said.
After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, many public school parents, and some Community Education Councils (CECs), called for additional security measures at schools. Some wanted armed officers at the doors, while others called for metal detectors or barbed wires.
Carranza said all those proposals would have a “small modicum of effect” on school safety. The most effective deterrent to school violence, he said, is creating an atmosphere where students feel safe, welcomed and validated.
“A safe environment, trusted adults and anonymity for reporting,” he said, “then you will create an environment where the entire student body is mutually responsible for each other’s safety.”