Lawmakers and parents urge city DOE to immediately provide transportation for students with disabilities

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Photo courtesy of schools.nyc.gov

Last Thursday, Senator John Liu joined other lawmakers to demand that the city immediately provide transportation for students with disabilities who began school at the start of the month.

According to the elected officials, many severely disabled students in New York City attend 4201 schools, which are private institutions that cater to individuals with deafness, visual impairment and emotional disturbance. The city’s Department of Education is required to provide school bus transportation with appropriately trained staff to bring students to and from the schools classified as 4201 institutions, as it had been for years.

But NYC-based families were informed at the end of August that the school buses would not be running until Sept. 13 and were instead offered MetroCards or taxi services as a consolation.

Parents and officials complained that other school districts in the state were reportedly able to provide adequate bus transportation for their students who attend these schools, which typically begin on Sept. 1.

“The mayor promised all year that schools would reopen for all students, but the sad truth is that they once again forgot about disabled kids for whom his Department of Education is required to provide appropriate school buses,” said Liu, who is the chairperson of Senate Committee on NYC Education. “It’s just unconscionable how special-needs students and their families are always an afterthought for City Hall and the DOE. The school bus requirements for these children have long been established and provided, and we reject the 11th-hour MetroCard and taxi suggestions.”

The Daily News reported that approximately 400 students with disabilities were slated to utilize the special transportation to 4201 schools this year. The plans for the students’ start date were approved back in June but on Aug. 19, the DOE’s Office of Pupil Transportation emailed school leaders to inform them that bus transport would not be available until Sept. 13.

Manhattan resident Evan Stein who sends his son to Kulanu Academy in Queens urged the DOE to begin the busing service before the first day of school on Thursday, Sept. 9.

“My son, Joshua, is 13 years old and has autism. He is not able to transport himself from his home in Manhattan to his school in Queens. Since he was 4 years old, we have relied on the DOE to provide him with transportation as mandated on his IEP. This year, as his school is beginning on Sept. 9, the DOE is not providing the transportation for the first two days of school,” Stein said. “They have offered to reimburse transportation costs for Josh and a parent who can transport him.”

Stein explained that he and his wife are health care workers based in Manhattan and neither of them has the flexibility to miss work in order to commute with their son to and from school.

“This would be a hardship on us, our colleagues and on the people we care for. We insist that the DOE provide the busing service that they are obligated to under Josh’s IEP when his school starts on Sept. 9,” Stein said.

Dr. Bernadette Kappen, chair of the 4201 Schools Association and executive director of the Bronx-based New York Institute for Special Education, said that at least four schools she represents, including the Henry Viscardi School in Nassau County, Lavelle School for the Blind, New York Institute for Special Education in the Bronx and St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf in Brooklyn, are “being throw into a state of uncertainty.”

She urged the DOE to reverse their “discriminatory decision” so that children could safely get to school.

“As the first bell of the school year starts to ring – hundreds of blind, deaf and physically disabled students are in jeopardy of being left at the curb on the first day of school. New York City DOE has known our calendars and start dates, however, for reasons and a rationale only known to them, their bus transportation may not begin until at least Sept. 13. The children we serve, and their families are the ones who will feel the consequences resulting from DOE’s lack of communication and organization,” Kappen said. “Any delay in returning to school is detrimental to our children’s education and frankly compounds the trauma they have suffered for the last 18 months.”

According to the DOE, the agency contacted all offices, schools and programs that were affected and notified families of available transportation options. In addition to the car services and reimbursements, DOT provided to the affected students and families, the agency also said they are working with the bus companies to provide busing services for impacted students. Those with accessibility needs can request a vehicle to accommodate them.

“We’re providing private car service for eligible non-public school families to ensure they have safe, reliable and free transportation to and from school for the few days that these schools are open before the NYC DOE school year begins. We look forward to standing up full-capacity bus service on Sept. 13 and getting all our students back on buses and into their classrooms,” said a DOE spokesperson.