Recent developments within New York City’s Department of Education—specifically its Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT)—are shining a light on a trend of potentially unsafe bus drivers within NYC’s educational system. According to the New York Post, Alexandra Robinson, the former executive director of OPT, has filed a lawsuit against the NYC Department of Education in Manhattan Federal Court. In the lawsuit, Robinson shares numerous allegations against OPT and the Special Commission of Investigation (SCI), the watchdog charged with investigating corruption or other infractions or improprieties inside the Department of Education. Among these allegations are claims that OPT has repeatedly failed to conduct thorough bus driver background checks and has allowed underqualified and potentially dangerous individuals to take on the responsibility of transporting city kids to school.
Robinson claims in the lawsuit that, during her tenure as executive director of OPT, she repeatedly raised concerns about perceived ethical and safety infractions within her office. In 2015, for instance, Robinson says she warned OPT officials about a bus driving school called Bus Drivers R Us. She’d spotted suspicious activity with the school—once including a claim that the school had conducted road tests for 50 bus drivers in a single day. The school was later accused of illegally selling falsified bus driver certifications to drivers who wanted them. Robinson shared email proof of her report to SCI regarding Bus Drivers R Us: in the email, she states that, given the timeframe, there was “absolutely no way” that the school could have given 50 road tests in one day.
Robinson’s lawsuit claims that she brought to light other issues as well, including drivers who had not gone through proper channels for fingerprinting, background checks, interviews, or other required steps for vetting. Instead, she alleges that the investigator charged with conducting bus driver background checks for the city rubber-stamped more than 700 school bus drivers and attendants—a practice that she says led to a trend in the city of individuals “with serious criminal records” being allowed to drive school buses.
All told, Robinson says that SCI killed at least four investigative probes that she tried to initiate into her department and NYC school bus drivers. In addition to informing SCI of her misgivings about ethical and safety standards, Robinson also alleges that she notified Paul Weydig, former OPT safety director, of her concerns; he did nothing to resolve the situation. Weydig left his OPT post this past July after getting caught collecting paychecks from two different full-time education jobs at once. He allegedly took advantage of COVID-19 quarantine work-from-home policies to start a second job (as a probationary supervisor of transportation for a public school district in Long Island) and was simultaneously paid for both jobs for several months. In her lawsuit, Robinson also says she caught Weydig disposing of sensitive, confidential employee information—including background check documents, DMV records, and bus driver certificates—in his office trash bin.
In 2018, Robinson blew the whistle on even deeper misconduct within OPT, including falsified DMV letters, invalid paperwork, and other fraudulent acts. SCI, in turn, accused Robinson of several improprieties of her own, including the mismanagement of a major bus GPS project. Robinson claims that some of SCI’s claims against her were unfounded and were used as a transparent means of creating a “pretext” to fire her. She was terminated from her job with OPT last October.
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