ALBANY -- New York State United Teachers, representing public school educators across the state, has put its lobbying clout behind a measure that would require school buses carrying young children to have an attendant to help kids board and get off the vehicles safely.
The bus monitor legislation, sponsored by Sen. Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo, was identified by the politically influential union Thursday as one of its top priorities as state lawmakers head into the final weeks of the 2019 legislative session.
The proposed requirement would be in play for buses ferrying child passengers in grades kindergarten through sixth grade.
Citing guidance from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Kennedy's legislation states that children face the greatest risk "when they approach the bus and when they exit the bus."
NYSUT said it will focus on that measure and several others that are included in a "Support School Staff" campaign that will be promoted through online advertising and reinforced with a lobbying blitz at the statehouse.
A spokesman for the state School Boards Association, Al Marlin, responded that decisions regarding the safeguarding of students and staff are "best made at the local level."
"School boards are committed to keeping students and staff safe, and take steps to do so each day through their local decision making, policies and procedures," Marlin said.
Mark Laurrie, the Niagara Falls city schools superintendent, said that "some bus runs may need an extra pair of adult eyes more than others, especially those that have young children" as passengers. But he agreed with the school boards that it would be best to leave the staffing calls to local administrators rather than have a new state mandate.
"There are times when we can transport kids, especially in the mornings, when there is no need for an attendant," said Laurrie. "In the last 20 years, we've never had a problem on a bus run."
The teachers' union is also going to bat for legislation that would mandate that school districts prepare plans to counter potential workplace violence.
NYSUT's wish list also includes a measure that would require that all permanent school employees, including non-instructional staffers, receive due process hearings when facing potential disciplinary action.
The requirement would not apply in cases where the employee has pleaded guilty to a felony charge of possession or sale of controlled substances, according to the legislation.
The package of bills, said Kim McEvoy, a senior account clerk for the Rondout Valley School District and NYSUT member, is aimed at enhancing safety for both students and school staffers.
"A lot of our school staff are injured breaking up fights and things of that nature," McEvoy said. "So we need to do more to protect the students and the staff and to make sure our kids receive a quality education without fear of violence in school."
Another NYSUT priority -- legislation requiring that school buses be outfitted with cameras positioned to photograph vehicles that ignore bus stop signs -- is expected to become law after passing both houses. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had signaled his support for that bill.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.