Special needs students across the city have spent the summer sweltering in non-air-conditioned school buses where temperatures have crept past 90 degrees, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Advocate Letitia James.

The DOE contracts school buses, which serve about 27,000 special needs students across the five boroughs, from private bus companies.

"By failing to protect our most vulnerable children, DOE is violating the law and our moral conscience," James said in a statement, adding that special needs children "often cannot voice their anguish while enduring unusually long bus rides during the hottest months of the year."

James held her first press conference on the issue last September, soon after Ahjaah Jewett, a 13-year-old autistic student, became sick riding an overheated bus, and called 911. Jewett told Autism Daily Newscast at the time, "My tummy started hurting. I tried to tell the matron that I thought that I was going to throw up but no one understood me." Since last fall, James says that the DOE has not responded to multiple requests to address the issue.

According to city code, "Any bus or other motor vehicle transporting a child with a disability to and from a school in the city... shall be air-conditioned when the ambient outside temperature exceeds seventy degrees." However, testimony from parents included in the suit describes multiple contracted buses with no air conditioning, or air conditioners that are consistently broken.

Catharine Boward-Simone of Bellerose, the mother of a 10-year-old autistic child, says that she has contacted her child's bus company about excessive heat 7 times since July, without any response.

"These bus routes tend to be longer than for other public school districts," she said in a statement. "Students are not allowed to have water with them on the bus. The combination of lack of air conditioning and water has caused [my child] visible distress."

Robin Ponsolle of Rego Park, the mother of a 14-year-old autistic boy, testified that her son "has had both aggressive and self-injurious behaviors on the bus, and suffers from anxiety. A hot environment is an additional stressor."

Ponsolle's son's behavior has included "hitting himself on the head, screaming loudly, crying, throwing things, and biting his arm until it bleeds." According to Ponsolle, he has an Individual Education Plan (IEP), signed off by the city, that requires air conditioning for health reasons.

Reached for comment, the DOE stated that 86% of its 2,800 special needs bus routes are equipped with air-conditioned buses. "Our standard is that every child whose IEP requires air conditioning must receive it," said DOE spokesman Harry Hatfield in a statement. "If ever a child, parent or teacher brings a problem to our attention, we will work to immediately correct it."