I have not written an article in such a long time. There have been many times I should have, many times in our personal life of Special Education I am living the story and it needs to be told, but it is so exhausting to get through the process at the end of the day there is not time to write. This time though it is necessary and affecting more then my son- it is affecting all children with Special Needs and their families, tens of thousands of children and it is devastating to their progress. The NYC bus strike is catastrophic.
My son is in a wheelchair and his school takes 3 subways and 5 elevators, plus about 10 blocks to get to in all. Yesterday one of the elevators was out of service and I had to bump his chair down 3 flights of stairs to get to the B or D train to then take 2 elevators to get the the F train to go to school. We start by walking 7 blocks to a train station with an elevator on 96th Street, and taking an elevator to the platform. At our destination we elevator to the street and then walk 3 blocks to school. Today at 12 degrees to go another way would mean waiting for the bus and more outside walking. I have blankets under him over him and completely covering him head to toe and he is cold. I cried Uncle today and kept him home, it is not worth him catching the flu.
Yesterday I was so frustrated I called Governor Cuomo's office, the Commissioner of Education John King's office, Mayor Bloomberg's office, and Chancellor Walcott's office. No one would accept responsibility for the bus strike and putting together a taxi/limo voucher system for children to get to school and after school I was told to email all of them and they would 'get back to me'. I wrote a letter and faxed it to all 4 offices this morning. Most parents, especially those with special needs cannot afford to pay for taxi's daily [$35.00+] each way for us, and then wait for DOE reimbursement. If they are fighting to lower the bus company pay to "competitive rates" how are they going to pay us back in a timely fashion?! I have 3 pages of notes- who I talked to and what they said. Basically who they told me to call, as it was not their responsibility, and "Good Luck". Can you believe it is not the Commissioner of Education's responsibility to make sure your child is receiving their mandated right to an education?! The Regional Office is suppose to call me this morning...I am still waiting and it's lunchtime....
I called Access-A-Ride and for the exact change of $2.25, they will add you to their pick-up list if possible. If my son were to lose any portion of his return fare he would not be able to board the bus, and again it is not timely and with the influx of students and their regular pick-up/drop-offs they are overwhelmed with requests, it is not a reliable option. On a Special Education bus there is also a Bus Matron to make sure everything goes smoothly. This is not possible on Access-A-Ride and my son has Autism- I am not sure how he would fare, I cannot take the chance with his emotional well-being. We are receiving free Metro Cards, but it does not do us any good if the elevators are out-of-service. Yesterday after I finally got him to school I walked out with another parent whose son has CP. His son has not been in school since the strike started, as he goes to another county. This parent and his wife cannot afford to get him there. As it is they are both going to work late and taking days off to facilitate getting 3 children to school and taking care of their son who is home. They paid for 2 days of taxis in the cold and cannot afford to do this again. Most people are losing income to stay home with their children or get them to school by any means they can. 40-60% of Special education students are not getting to school.
When the Chancellor and the Mayor made the decision to take a stance, knowing full well their stance could lead to a strike, leaving approximately 152,000 children and families without a bus, over 1/3 special needs, they should have had more then MetroCards in place. They did not consider the children in wheelchairs who would need extra assistance and who need to be in school and need to receive therapy to continue to succeed. They did not have a taxi/limo voucher system in place, and a system for parents to then get back home- they did not have a solid plan for every student. This is unfair and in many ways could be considered discriminatory. The local news stations have featured children with special needs and how parents are struggling to either get them to school or have to stay home with them and not work. It is all over the internet. Even on the Metro system children are struggling to adjust to the disruption, many have difficulty with drastic changes like this or any changes. It is also the difficulty of the public and their acceptance of a child with special needs on a train or bus- some people are just plain ignorant. We have all heard comments or received the 'stares'. Yesterday it took 2 parents to get one girl into the elevator- my heart broke for them.
Even if this does not affect you, even if you live outside NYC and your bus comes every morning, you should be outraged. NO ONE thinks their child will need a wheelchair, no one wants to see their child in a wheelchair or with any form of disability, but it happens. I feel blessed to have such a wonderful, unique, loving Child- a friend of mine said God gives us what we can handle, and she said she could never do what I do. I disagree, when it is your child you do it. You love them for who they are, and you fight for everything that will improve their life and help them live a better life. I am fighting like mad right now!
It is horrendous that children are not able to receive their mandated education, it is appalling that not one of the people in the education system, or that made the decision to take a stance, IE: the Mayor and Chancellor of NYC schools, is making an effort to help those in need. The system in place is flimsy at best. Both the union and the Mayor/Chancellor have stated that they are concerned about our children- no one is concerned about our children, this is about money. Our children are being displaced and ignored because of a monetary dispute.
I have called 311, I have researched this online and called every agency who should be responsible or take some responsibility, but no one knows anything and apparently no one is responsible during a bus strike to make sure your child receives their right to a FAPE. It's okay if they miss school, as the DOE has apparently put studies online?! I am sure that they do not have the specialized education my son gets at his school. He has a chromosomal abnormality and it affects him in many ways. I am sure that the parent I met is not able to get his son to do online work either. It would be impossible to receive all the services mandated for children with special needs online.
I have contacted Resources for Children as a parent told me yesterday when leaving the school they have a program through a coalition that is giving vouchers for taxi fare for hardship families. I have called and I am waiting for the person in charge to call me back, she is not in today. I am hoping this program is still open and we can apply.
Monday we will be able to take our 3 subway 5 elevator, 10 block walk route, as the broken elevator is suppose to be working after the 26th. I then leave at 1:30 to pick him up from school to go to therapy. That is one subway ride and just over 6 blocks walk. Oh, and did I mention that his new wheelchair has been delayed 6 MONTHS due to errors by the medical company and Medicaid. That we are using a 60+ pound loaner chair that has fallen apart 4 times [replaced]. I am pushing 85 pounds in a 60+ pound chair. Once crossing the street the leg rests came completely apart and we were waiting for the lights to change to pick up all the pieces! His chair will be be sent out at the end of the month and even though I had nothing to do with all the delays for $300.00 I can have it sent overnight. If I had $300.00 I would have him in a taxi going to school. I make endless amounts of calls would do more if I could, but when you are dependent on others to facilitate for you because that's the law of the land, it's impossible.
If anyone knows the winning lottery numbers let me know- I need them to get our wheelchair ASAP and hire a taxi to get my son to school. I am a single mom on a very limited budget who adores her children and works hard around their schedules. If I win the lottery I promise to help all families get their Special Needs children to school during the strike! I think I have a better chance/odds of winning and helping families then depending on the Governor, the Commissioner of Education, the Mayor or the Chancellor to help us. My odds of winning are 1 in 13 million. Right now the odds of getting any one of those 4 to help is 1 in infinity. I am definitely playing the Mega and the Powerball!!!!! It is our only chance until the strike is over! My heartfelt thoughts are with all the families struggling right now- I know exactly how you feel and if writing an article, sending my letter and calling these people helps I am doing it. I wish I could do more, I would.