NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The nation's largest school district, New York City, started a new school year on Thursday and there are some challenges teachers and administrators are facing that they haven't in years past.
A school bus driver strike could impact thousands of public school students in the city.
The good news is the union says bus service will run normally for the first two days of school, on Thursday and Friday, but the bad news is that a strike could still happen in the coming days.
The school bus driver strike could impact up to 80,000 students in the New York City public school system. Of those, nearly 25,000 have special needs.
The union that represents the bus drivers, attendants, and mechanics says they simply cannot make ends meet and want to negotiate a fair contract.
"We want to do what's right by our bus drivers. They are moving our children to and from," Mayor Eric Adams said.
The city released a contingency plan in the event of a strike.
Students would be given MetroCards if they are able to take public transit. If that is not an option, families would be reimbursed for alternative transportation, or in some cases, the city may provide ride-share services.
Thursday morning, UFT President Michael Mulgrew joined the mayor and Schools Chancellor David Banks at P.S.121 in the Bronx to announce the city is changing existing rules to allow 500 teachers, already certified in English as a New Language (ENL) and bilingual educators, to shift into those roles to meet the influx of asylum seekers.
"We are activating a special group of teachers who already work in our schools," Banks said. "There are currently over 500 tenured teachers who, beyond their primary teaching licenses, hold additional licenses in English as a new language and bilingual education. Over 500 who already have those licenses. These are very special teachers who can teach multiple subjects, but often, they do not, for fear of having to restart their tenure."
Now, the city will allow teachers to combine their services from multiple licenses without losing their tenure, a change long sought for by the UFT.
"That is a very, very, very big deal. That is a huge deal," Banks said to applause. "It is going to help us out tremendously."
There are 2,500 students living in temporary housing that are newly enrolled in the city's public school system since July, Chancellor Banks said Wednesday. More are expected to enroll in the coming days.
There is no problem with space because 120,000 families disenrolled from the public school system during the pandemic, but some parents are unsure if the city will pass this test with flying colors.
"How many more kids can we actually fit in these classrooms," parent Nyky Garrison said. "So yes, overall, very concerned, but again one day at a time."
For students, the real struggle appears to be reading. Their parents made a plea to the Department of Education.
"More after school programs for our children and more reading, academics that they need," parent Jennifer Cajigas said.
The chancellor agrees. More than half of students cannot read at grade level.
"I want to make sure that all kids in New York City can read," Banks said. "That is our number one objective."
Something that's new this school year are two virtual high schools, each with 150 ninth and tenth graders, that will soon offer night and weekend classes for remote students with nontraditional schedules.
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