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.