The D.C. agency that supervises school buses is expecting to leave federal court supervision after more than 15 years of problems, including transporting special needs students last year on poorly maintained buses, the state superintendent said.
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education's transportation department "has had one of the most significant turnarounds of any department in OSSE's history," State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley told city leaders at a budget hearing.
School leaders have made multiple attempts to buck court supervision of their 790 buses, which transport 3,500 special education students whose neighborhood schools aren't equipped to meet their needs.
In 1995, a class-action lawsuit against the District installed a court monitor at the school transportation department to monitor 34 performance factors.
As recently as last fall, Judge Paul Friedman decided OSSE wasn't ready to operate alone and extended its "transition period" to Oct. 31. It was the fifth time the court monitor or OSSE requested a delay because of troubled service.
In July, supervising court master David Gilmore said OSSE "knowingly" transported students on buses that had not been properly inspected or maintained. He accused leadership of being "in complete disarray" and said the District failed to get students to school on time.
But Mahaley told the D.C. Council in the budget hearing, "I am happy to report that last month, [the transportation department] fulfilled the final performance metric out of the original 34 that were ordered, and is on course to exit oversight this year."
The agency has been replacing its fleet with new, GPS-equipped vehicles, and OSSE says it's now achieving a 95 percent on-time school arrival rate.
Jennifer Lav, a lawyer representing the families in the lawsuit, said OSSE's luck will hinge on how smooth the start of summer school and the next school year go, transitions the District has struggled with. "It remains to be seen," Lav said.
Yetta Myrick, the mother of a young special needs child using the buses, said recent experiences have been "hit-or-miss."
"We were lucky to have a great bus driver and a great aide this school year," but have had difficulties when substitutes step in.
"There was a situation last year when they couldn't find my son's school and I didn't know where my son was for over an hour," Myrick said. "If they decide to take them off supervision, they need to ensure service continues to be maintained and improved."