Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bus Woes

So, I 'm feeling a bit discouraged today.  I love our town and community. In fact, I just wrote about it. But, right now I am feeling let down.

Here's the story...

Anna goes to a private school for children with Down syndrome.  Our local school district pays for Anna to go to this school because they don't have the services to support her needs. We are completely blessed to be able to go to this school, and it has been true answer to prayers. Unfortunately, the school is not close.  Without traffic, it takes 35-40 minutes to get there.

Last year, Anna was the only student on her bus. She was being picked up around 7:45 - 7:50, and was making it to school, which starts at 8:50, with no problem.  It was a long commute, but really couldn't get any better.  On the way home, school dismissed at 2:40, and Anna arrived home no later than 3:30 each day, but usually by 3:20.  Again, a bit of a commute, but still doable.

So, this year Anna started back to school on the 8th.  The week before, the bus company called to tell us what time Anna will be picked up, and that she would be ride-sharing with another little girl that goes to school with Anna, but lives in another district.   We are all for ride sharing.  We get it.  It saves the districts money.  Plus, Anna gets a friend to ride with :)   In fact, Anna shared a ride with a little boy all summer.  It was fine.  It added about 15 minutes to her commute, but nothing extraordinary.
Anna's first day of school this year :)

We are fine with ride sharing, except when it adversely affects Anna.  And, unfortunately, this particular route is not working.

Anna's pick up time is 7:20 AM - 30 minutes earlier than last year.  I could probably live with that if everything else was working.  But, even before school started, we knew, and argued, that leaving at 7:20, they will never make it on time. The other little girl lives completely out of the way.  We agreed to give it a week to see how it would work, but with complete reservations.

So, as predicted, Anna is getting picked up at 7:20.  As soon as we see the van pull up, we promptly (as promptly as Anna moves that early in the morning, anyway - let's be realistic) walk out and load up.  And, as predicted, Anna (and the other little girl on the bus), have been 10-20 minutes late to school each day.  So, not only is Anna on the bus for almost 2 hrs, but she is also late to school --- everyday.

On the way home, the other little girl gets dropped off first.  School starts loading busses at 2:40 PM, and Anna has gotten home no earlier than 4:10, more regularly 4:15- 4:20,  each day.  Again, over 1.5 hours -- everyday.

(Actually, Anna got home at 3:25 yesterday.  The other little girl got picked up from school, so it was just Anna.  There's a big difference between 45 minutes and 90 minutes.  Anna was completely giddy when she got off the bus. )

So, what do we do?  We have followed protocol and spoken with Anna's case manager about the situation.  We have expressed how we are displeased that, not only is Anna, a 6-yr old girl with special needs,  on the bus for so long, but that she is also not getting to school on time.  We have expressed how this is affecting Anna.  She is exhausted at the end of the day. I can barely get some food down her before she is laying her head down on the table begging to go to bed, only to get up (very early) and do it all again the next day.  That may be fine for a grown adult commuting into the city, but NOT for a 6-yr old, and particularly NOT for a 6-yr old with special needs.

Anna at 6:30 last Friday night. She didn't even want to eat dinner.
Our case manager is wonderful, and sympathetic to our request.  But, I was shocked by the pretty heartless and callous response that we got (from her higher-ups).  Basically, the school district has told us that they aren't going to do anything.  They said that Anna has to share a ride because of cost. They asked for bids from other bus companies but they were no better.  Some of the other options they gave to us were: 1) go to a closer school  (ummm - what school would that be?) and 2) drive her ourselves and they would actually pay us what they pay the bus company.  AAAACCCKKK!!!

I am trying really hard to be calm and rational about the whole thing.  I mean, comparatively, our issue is not that big.  But it is big for us.  And, we don't think that what we are asking for is unreasonable.  We are happy for Anna to share a ride, just as long as the commute is reasonable for a 6-yr old with down syndrome, and she actually gets to school on time.

We understand about cutting costs and meeting budgets. Really, we do! But at what expense?  My daughter's well being?

I'm not sure what to do next.  I don't want ruffle feathers too much.  We feel completely privileged and blessed to even be able to send Anna to this school, but I'm certainly not done fighting.
Ugh!  When Anna was born, one of the things I was concerned about was that I am not an aggressive person and wasn't sure I would be up for fighting for Anna's rights.  I hate that I have to do it.  :(

So, what precedent and laws do I have on my side? Looks like I have some research to do.  And some praying...lots of praying.

6 comments:

  1. I take my daughter there for the EI program. It is a great school and she turns 3 next month. I'd love for her to go there, but we live an hour away and the thought of her sitting on a bus, possibly alone, on rt 80 during the rush scares me.

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  2. You have no legal options. The school is providing exactly what it can, when it can. They can't change the school's opening and closing.

    Either slowly change her schedule so that she gets to sleep earlier and gets up earlier(also making changes so that she is fully ready to get on the bus when it arrives) , as well as possibly have a small packed snack for her during her ride.

    Or, take the school up on paying you to take her(this is an almost unheard of and extremely generous offer) to school. You could hire someone that you know and trust or you could place an ad. I know you are frustrated but the school has gone above and beyond in their offer for payment.

    This is the school you need and want. Another child is now attending. These things happen. Harder things will happen. If you can't accept this without making some changes... you will make the far FAR bigger changes almost impossible to deal with.

    This is something so insignificant it's your attitude that is making things difficult. You need to accept that.

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    1. Hello Anonymous (what a clever name). You don't seem to get the point. Anna is going to this school because the school district does not have a program that can meet Anna's educational needs. Therefore, they are obligated to provide transportation to a school that will meet her needs. And, as a school psychologist, I would be the first to say that 4 hours on a school bus is unexceptable. The district does have an obligation.

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  3. Anonymous, you have no idea if the school is providing what they can or not. Only they do. This is only what they are offering, so far. Also, they have not gone above and beyond...they are doing what is required by law to give services to those that need them. The school system co-decided that this school was the right one for her, when they decided that they didn't have the services within the district to support her.
    It's our job to advocate for our kids, and that is all we are doing. We have a great relationship with them, to date, and we will keep working with them, in a positive manner to do what's best for Anna. Our attitudes are great, but it's also ok for a mother and father to be discouraged when a situation changes for the worse, especially when it moves to be beyond what is reasonable.

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  4. (To be clear - I'm a different Anonymous than the prior commenter.) I don't live in your state, so I can't comment on your legal options. But we did recently have to work on transportation arrangements for our daughter with Ds - getting her from the school district preschool to her daycare (outside of the district) four days a week in the middle of the day. My husband and I work, so not practical for us to do it. I placed ads with care.com and sittercity.com and we were able to find a girl to help us with this. (And overall I was impressed with the quality of applicants from these sites.) We pay her mileage + an hourly rate. So far, it's working out nicely. Just wondering if the reimbursement the district is offering would be enough to allow you to do something like this. You may have already looked into this, but just offering in case it helps. Good luck!

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  5. Contact the Special Education unit of your state's Dept of Education. They have advocates who can tell you what the law requires (independent of your district). My three sons with ASD attend a private school at our choosing and therefore, our home district does not provide any accommodations for transportation. They cut us a small check each years (about $200 a year) to help defray our transportation costs. IF we lived in a district that had a contract with the school, then it's a different story.

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