NYC Department of Education

High-Need Student Services

How can we ensure that families with high-need students can thoughtfully collaborate with school staff and bus teams?

Partners and Funders


Every year, more than 45,000 New York City children with physical, mental, and behavioral needs ride city-funded buses to school, sometimes spending up to two hours on the bus each way. At the invitation of the NYC Department of Education, we explored how to improve this busing service for children and their families.

Based on more than 80 hours of ethnographic research with families, school and bus staff, and agency leaders, we discovered that families lacked meaningful information about transport options for their disabled children, that parents had no way to inform bus teams about their children’s medical needs, and that families often didn’t receive timely (or any) indication of when their child’s service would be altered.


In collaboration with parents, front-line staff, and agency officials, we prototyped three simple tools to facilitate informed communication between families, bus teams, and the Department of Education. The first is a discussion guide that helps social workers and parents work together to enroll a child in busing services. A portable card, designed to stay with a bus team through personnel changes, allows parents to share specific caregiving information about their child. Finally, a new system notifies families of busing changes by automatically sending a memo to school, where staff ensure the memo travels home with the child.

Project Team

Alexandra Firoillo headshot
Alexandra Fiorillo
Miya Osaki headshot
Miya Osaki
Tina Park
Natalia Radywyl headshot
Natalia Radywyl
Anna Vignet headshot
Anna Vignet