Oh Enough Already! School Bus Strike Impacts Special Needs Children Most of All

Despite the sub contracting of bus companies, the NYC school bus strike continues. The New York City school bus strike has been going on since January 16th, and there appears to be no end in sight.  The city and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 aren’t even talking at this point. While we wait to hear a verdict from the judges to determine if this strike is even legal (many believe that it isn’t), thousands of school children and their families are scrambling to find alternative ways to get to school, and then make it to their own jobs in time.

Of the 152,000 public school children that rely on Bus service to get them to school each day, 54,000 of them have special needs, including many requiring wheelchairs.  There is no doubt that these kids have been hit the hardest by this strike.  While the city has been providing Metrocards to use on subways and city buses as one alternative, this clearly isn’t a viable option if you have a kid in a wheelchair, or any other disability that makes the subway impossible.  My autistic daughter travels from Queens to Harlem each day to attend her school.  Since the strike, we have borrowed a friend’s car, ridden the subway, taken taxis, and some days she’s missed school completely.  The NYC subway during rush hour isn’t the easiest to navigate when you are a fully functioning adult – try doing it with a kid with autism: it’s often frightening and loud and when scared or taken out of the usual routines, a kid with autism can exhibit unpredictable behavior that can make for some serious safety concerns too.  Rockaway’s mom Dayann has two autistic sons that attend school in Manhattan, and the stress of this strike is already breaking her spirit: “Every day I wake up and I want to cry.  I have a two hour train journey with my sons, often with no seat.  I have one son who becomes very scared and agitated in crowds, and another that has no self awareness at all and will bolt if he sees something that interests him.”  Dayann and her family are just getting back on their feet after Sandy, and their eldest daughter has only recently returned to her Rockaway school after being bussed to Brooklyn, due to school closures after the storm.

On the first day of the strike my daughter was the only kid in her class.  Her classmates, who travel from as far as Long Island and the Rockaways couldn’t make it to school, even with the alternatives the DOE was offering.  On the second day, only one more kid showed up.  It’s evident that the abrupt changes to these kid’s routines is causing more than logistical nightmares for their parents and caregivers.  Julie Fisher, Executive Director of New York Center for Autism Charter School is seeing first hand how this stress is affecting her students and their families:  “Our kids have been thrown off by their change in routine, but the biggest impact relates to the fact that our kids aren’t able to be here consistently.  All of our students have IEPs that mandate extended year services explicitly because they regress when there are prolonged absences from school.  So this is incredibly detrimental.”

Parents are also concerned about transitions back to school when the strike ends.  Many children overcome significant challenges riding a school bus alone, and, now after the strike, they will need to relearn coping strategies once again.  For kids with autism, the programs that they have in place at school are vital to their development, and any extended break from these programs compromises their opportunity for successful outcomes.  It simply isn’t fair to drag these kids through this any longer.

Try to find any news updates on the strike, is impossible; it seems that it’s barely considered news anymore, unless, of course, you are a parent struggling to get your kid to school in 11 degree weather, then the strike is headline news. If you know of somebody who usually relies on a school bus, I encourage you to help them. Offer to babysit another child, offer to drive them or pick them up, and most importantly, don’t forget them.  All our kids have the right to a safe passage to school, whether that’s on the bus, on the train, or even by foot.   Bus drivers and matrons – for the sake of our children, get back to work.  Please