Monday, February 4, 2013

The Bus Strike Brings Hardship to Special Ed Kids

Ms. R. has a 9 year old son with Down syndrome. He attends a District 75 school and the travel time to school and back is more than an hour. They have been hit hard by the bus strike which began on January 16th. Because of the lack of transportation, she has kept her son home on some days and has tried using Access-a-Ride on other days.

The school bus strike resulted from a dispute between Mayor Bloomberg and the school bus company owners. Mayor Bloomberg states that school bus transportation costs are way out of control, and is asking for a more competitive bidding process without a job-protection clause that will save the city millions of dollars. The Bloomberg administration wants to request bids for new contracts for 1,100 special-education routes. Bus drivers and matron’s fear that they will lose their jobs if their companies lose their bids and are demanding that the Bloomberg administration guarantee senior drivers will have a job even if the city changes school bus companies. The administration’s position is that they do not have to be legally able to provide employment protection.

It costs about $7,000 per student to transport children every year, but the Department of Education spends about $13,000 a year to bus each special education child annually. The strike has shut down about 5,000 of the city’s 7,700 school bus routes and as a result, more than 110,000 children have had to find new ways to get to their schools. No one has been more profoundly affected than the tens of thousands of special needs children and their parents, who tend to travel the longest distances.

On one recent rainy day, Ms. R. was forced to use public transport when she just missed the Access-a-Ride bus she requested. She started to run after the bus in an attempt to stop it and get her son and herself on the bus. Using public transport places a strong hardship on her because her son occasionally strikes out and hits other passengers. On one occasion, he hit a man who in turn pulled at the young boy’s jacket, which caused a commotion on the bus. The parent is Spanish-speaking and has very little English speaking skills. The school’s parent coordinator does not speak English, but somehow managed to communicate to the parent that she can use a taxi to bring her child to school. The parent however, is unable to use a taxi because she cannot afford the $50 round trip and/or to wait for a reimbursement from the Department of Education.

The Bloomberg administration states that they are offering other options to travel to schools including providing students and parents with Metro cards to use for subway and bus transportation to schools. For parents with cars, the Department of Education will pay them .55 cents per mile for travel to and from school. Some parents said the city has offered to reimburse them up to $200 a day for car services, but many said they did not have the money to lay out.

For more information on how parents can get their children to schools, including reimbursement forms, please visit the NYC Department of Education’s Office Of Pupil Transportation website. In addition, the Department of Education has a website that discusses transportation options for children who have an IEP.
Unfortunately, there appears to be no quick end to the school bus strike and every day that passes without a resolution brings further hardship and misery to all those affected, but particularly to the parents and their children with special needs.                                                                                            (Photo)

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