May 06, 2021

SRPs press lawmakers for safer workplaces and job protections

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
Caption: Sen. Jim Tedisco hears from School-Related Professionals in New York's 49th Senate District.

Recently, Barbara Montalbano told lawmakers, a student had a seizure on the bus. The other kids thought the student was just being silly and did not alert the bus driver. The bus driver was focused on driving.

“The seizure was made worse because of the lapse of time before the student got attention,” she said. “We’re talking about students’ lives and safety.”

Having a bus monitor would have changed the outcome of the situation; and that is what NYSUT members are asking for.

Montalbano, a member of Sachem Central TA’s teaching assistants, job coach and interpreter unit, is one of the 45 NYSUT School-Related Professionals who took part in two days of virtual grassroots advocacy, meeting with lawmakers to explain the importance of getting bills passed that would help them and help students. Most lawmakers they visited could not dispute the need for bus monitors, toileting protocols, honoring seniority in job recalls, or due process for disciplinary concerns.

Requiring a bus monitor would help students who are being bullied, have medical issues, or need help. It would help ensure that new COVID-19 safety protocols are being followed, which require students to sit in certain seats according to a chart, and wear their masks. A monitor can make sure students remain seated.

Just this week, two special education students in Herricks decided — without a parent or guardian’s permission — to walk home. The bus driver could not jump off the bus and get them, because he’d be leaving all other students alone on the bus.

“The bus monitor had to get off the bus and go down the street to get them,” said SRP Ginger Reime, a member of the Herricks TA monitors and teacher aides unit.

Thankfully, that bus had a monitor.

Anna Maria Cordi, an SRP with Sachem Central TA said she has a nephew with special needs who was being severely bullied in the back of the bus, unbeknownst to the driver.

The bus driver’s job “is to drive the bus,” said Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville. “Safety is above everything. You’re driving our most significant commodity: our children.”

Tedisco noted how laws for seat belts, against texting while driving, and to provide video cameras on buses to track vehicles that illegally pass them while stopped have all helped ensure safety. He pledged “100 percent” support for the legislation, adding, “You can count on me.”

Cheryl Rockhill, president of the Brushton-Moira Support Staff, worked as a bus monitor before becoming a transportation assistant. She reminded lawmakers that bus drivers also need to ensure students safely enter and exit the bus. Aside from that, “their eyes should be on the road, not the rearview mirror,” she said.

“You have to have someone telling the bus driver to stop the bus, or to call it in,” agreed Assemblymember Jodi Giglio, R-Riverhead.

Patricia Bertolone, Sachem Central TA teacher aide unit, implored lawmakers to address toileting protocols and training for staff. In her district, three aides — who only received a one-time Power Point training — are responsible for 23 students who need toileting.

One aide has spent entire days in the bathroom with different students. Bertolone pointed out that some students needing help with toileting could weigh 150-200 pounds.

Sandie Carner-Shafran, a retired SRP and NYSUT Board member, shared a precautionary anecdote about a young student being helped with toileting who fell on a staff member. The staffer was not properly trained and did not have assistance. Subsequently, the person sustained long-lasting injuries.

The statewide union is working with the State Education Department and other stakeholders to craft a bill that would provide clarity on how to toilet, how staff members can protect themselves and the dignity of the child, and how to be equipped for safety (lifting) and sanitary precautions.

NYSUT is also asking that seniority be a factor when SRPs are laid off and then called back.

“When you invest your time, there should be something to help people come back in a timely and orderly fashion,” said Bertolone.

“It’s critical to know your time has value and has worth,” added Karen McLean, Herricks TA.

Many lawmakers visited during the "lobby" days did not know that unlike other state workers, SRPs do not have seniority recall rights.

Contributing to a discussion on the need for justice when an employee’s conduct is being questioned, NYSUT members urged lawmakers to support a bill calling for independent hearing officers in disciplinary proceedings. The bill would provide mutually agreed upon arbitrators through the American Arbitration Association.

“It’s vital that our people get due process,” said McLean.

In a virtual briefing prior to the twin advocacy days, NYSUT President Andy Pallotta reminded the activists that sharing their stories is crucial. “Every time we speak to legislators, we make a difference.”

“We meet people that we put in office,” said Karen McLean.