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Andrew Pallotta: SRPs Face Unexpected Workplace Dangers

Ask any educator and they’ll tell you — it takes more than teachers to make a school run smoothly. It takes dedicated teaching aides and assistants, who provide help in everything from math, to reading, to science. It takes bus drivers, who safely transport students to school, and back home again. And it takes cafeteria workers, secretaries and custodians.

At NYSUT, we call these hardworking men and women School Related Professionals — or SRPs for short. And all of them play important roles in our public schools — and in the lives of New York State schoolchildren.

But what often goes unnoticed, are the unseen workplace dangers that place them and the students they serve at risk. From careless drivers who ignore flashing red lights and speed past waiting school buses … to inadequate staffing that puts service providers at risk … the work of SRPs can be risky.  

An example is Mark Warner, a teachers’ aide in Syracuse. Mark has suffered three concussions, a fractured nose and damage to both his shoulders and elbows. Some injuries occurred while he restrained students who were fighting or harming themselves. Others took place while he worked with students with special needs.

Another example is Erie County school bus driver Deb Paulin. She’s had her share of close calls from careless drivers who’ve barreled past her stopped bus — something that happens an astonishing 50,000 times a day in the State of New York.  Splitting your attention between the road, and whatever’s happening behind you on the bus, can also be a challenge.

To protect both students and SRPs, our statewide union — NYSUT — launched a new Support School Staff campaign to advocate for four pieces of legislation to make our schools, and our buses, safer.

One bill would require school districts to develop and implement programs to prevent workplace violence. Another would require that all buses transporting kindergarten through sixth-grade students have attendants on board. Drivers navigate through traffic, weather and other road hazards — all while checking seven mirrors and keeping their eye out for dangerous drivers. It makes no sense that they’re also expected to control student behavior.

A third bill would increase penalties for drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses. It would also allow districts to install mobile cameras on buses.

To highlight the importance of these bills, NYSUT is planning an SRP lobby day at the state Capitol next month. We’re expecting hundreds of dedicated SRPs to travel to Albany on June 4th to share their personal experiences and to advocate for these bills.

The workplace is challenging enough without having to fear for your own safety, or the safety of those entrusted to your care. I think of it this way: if these workplaces are unsafe for SRPs, they are also unsafe for the children in their care.

As our state lawmakers enter the last few days of the legislative session, I hope the stories these School Related Professionals share will inspire them to support these important pieces of legislation. To learn more about NYSUT’s Support School Staff campaign, visit Support School Staff.org.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The time is now for sensible reforms. The time is now to protect our School Related Professionals and the students they care for.

Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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