As the New York City school bus strike lumbers and lurches into its third week and the negotiations between the Union and the City continue to be as absent as Bloomberg’s humility, myself, along with thousands of other parents and caregivers are still struggling daily to get our children to and from school each day.
“But the City has given you Metrocards!” I hear you cry. Not so fast. If it was as simple as that nobody would actually give a toss about this strike, or what the drivers want, or why the city won’t give it to them. But it’s not as simple as that, particularly when you are talking about the thousands of “special ed” students who are suffering more than most.
Like so many children with autism, my daughter has almost no self-awareness at all. Walking down the street with her can be like an hour of defensive night time driving with an angry octopus riding shotgun. I can’t take my eyes of her for a moment, lest a pigeon should come into view, or a squirrel, or anything else that piques her interest. She will run after it in a heartbeat, even if that thing is in the middle of Ditmars Blvd and in front of a bus. There’s a reason that she’s picked up outside the house, and dropped off at her school rather than being collected from a bus stop. And that reason is safety. That safety is compromised every morning that I navigate the walk to our subway, crossing streets as cars fly through red lights and turn corners at 40mph, oblivious to the equally oblivious 7 year old in front of them.
I’m happy to say that my daughter has not missed that much school since the strike began. Her diagnosis dictates that her schedule is kept as routine as humanly possible, and she thrives when it is. However, she has been at school later than usual, and I have to pick her up at least an hour earlier than she is scheduled to finish, so that I can pick my other kids up in time. And THAT’S a happy story! If you like in Brooklyn and your kids school is in Westchester, well, your kid is not getting to school. Teachers are finding it increasingly difficult to create and implement their lesson plans because they have no idea who will be in class the next day and for how long. The bus routes are created to ensure that the kids get to school at their regular time and stay for the duration of the day. Heck, it’s the law! But most parents can’t rearrange their lives, and that of their families, bosses, colleagues to make that work. Parents days are besieged by mad dashes to get to school and to work and to another school and back to work, if they are lucky enough to be close enough to a subway stop to do so. The school time that is being wasted on long subway journeys, as well as the work hours being missed by parents and caregivers is going to prove to be devastating as this strike continues.
So we’ve avoided being hit by a deviant driver channeling the ghost of Ayrton Senna, and now we’re on the train. Phew! What a relie………..! Wait, what is that person staring at? Is she giving me the evil eye because I gave my daughter the last empty seat? I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: The New York City Subway is an unusually cruel and hostile place to be at the best of times. Now I have to navigate it during rush hour with my autistic daughter. She’s pretty good on the subway, quite charming at times. If she catches her reflection she’ll pull out her best “Saturday Night Fever” moves, and she likes to should “ALL ABOARD” as we prepare to leave each station. Adorable right? No, not to fellow riders during rush hour. How DARE we even be on the train? Why is she shouting? Why does she keep standing up, then sitting down? Why don’t I simply discipline her better? Their looks say it all. Last week my daughter put her foot on the seat. A woman sitting opposite me shook her head in disbelief. The lack of kindness and compassion on a subway train is so discouraging. I know of kids who have severe emotional reactions to being in crowds. Indeed, as well as a matron on the bus, these kids will also have a paraprofessional to soothe them through their journey. Now these kids are expected to endure subway journeys, sometimes as long as 2 hours each way. There have been outbursts and getting off trains before the destination is reached and just turning back and going home. If you only take away one thing from this article, let it be this; Be KIND. These kids are having a really hard time, and the people traveling with them are doing their very best in the midst of a crisis out of their control. Be kind. The way you treat these new subway riders could make or break their day.
The parents of special needs kids have sent their children to these schools for a purpose. The bus drivers and matrons who help to facilitate their journeys are part of that purpose. The union and the City are robbing our children of this purpose.
Author: Carolyn Nagler