I have already shared with you Alex’s story (still waiting since September for a bus route) regarding special needs busing in New York City (see previous post here). Now on top of this we have a bus strike which will further delay the implementation of an appropriate route for Alex (if ever). Given the city’s position toward those who rely on this service (news reports say that 40% to 60% of special needs students are now out of class on any given day) and the subsequent hardships imposed on families already struggling with autism and other disabilities, it is clear the city is prioritizing fiscal concerns at the expense of the special needs population.
I am including below a letter from the Autism Action Network which lays out the busing issue along with other changes the Mayor’s office and Department of Education (DOE) have made which increase the challenges the disabled and their families have to contend with here in New York City.
NYC's Special-Ed Kids Need Busses
More than 150,000 special education students in New York City have not had transportation for two days (weeks now) as a result of a bus drivers strike. The drivers are striking because New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to force them to accept a contract that will allow the private bus companies the city hires to replace experienced drivers and attendants with lower-cost new hires (Note that these folks make, on average $14 and $11 per hour respectively according to news reports). No other contract with a New York City agency has allowed replacement of experienced employees with lower-cost workers. Bloomberg has accused the drivers of "abandoning" the city's students. But let’s look at Bloomberg’s record on special education.
Bloomberg fought hard and successfully to get control of New York City’s schools, the largest public school system in America. During his tenure as Mayor, Bloomberg’s approach to special education has had one consistent theme: reducing costs whenever possible. And he has paid special attention to reducing costs specifically for students with autism. Bloomberg’s admitted goal in negotiating this bus contract has been to lower the cost of busing special education students.
While pushing for increasing educational standards for mainstream students he has advocated reducing special education standards to the federally-required minimum.
He has pushed to “mainstream” special students whenever possible as a cost reduction method, not because it is in the student’s best interests.
He has fought to stop students from going to private schools even when there are no appropriate public school placements available.
In collaboration with New York State Schools Chancellor Meryl Tisch, he successfully fought to have minimum standards for students with autism eliminated from New York State education standards, again solely to reduce costs.
He supports charter schools that refuse admission to special needs students as a tactic to keep standardized test-scores high.
Bloomberg’s current concern for the welfare of New York City’s special education students just isn’t supported by his behavior in more than 10 years in office. Some have said that Bloomberg is cynically attempting to pit special education students and their families against the very service workers they depend on everyday for safe transportation to and from school. Our children need experienced, vetted and trained transportation workers not inexperienced, low-bid new hires.
The city still has a legal obligation to provide transportation to the students. The Mayor has offered to provide disabled kids Metrocards for the city’s buses and subways, or offered to reimburse parents $.55 per mile for driving students to school (in the city with the lowest percentage of homes owning automobiles of any large city in the US.)
The Mayor wants to use a lower standard for the drivers of special education bus drivers than drivers for mainstream students. The vast majority of bus drivers in New York City have contracts that respect experience. If you agree with us that the Mayor needs to stop using special education students and their families as pawns to reduce costs please call the Mayor’s office and politely tell him to put students first, treat the bus drivers for special educations students the same as bus drivers for all the other students, and get our kids back in school. Ask him to drop his effort to reduce costs at the expense of New York’s most vulnerable students.
In addition to the above, I have often wondered where the city’s priorities lie with respect to special education. When my son first began in the public schools here in NYC I was surprised to be asked to supply to the classroom various minor articles that apparently are not provided, at least in sufficient amount, by the DOE. Each September and June (for summer programs) we have been asked to send in glue sticks, tissues, wipes and other minor supplies. Does the DOE not supply schools with these items? Is NYC that bad off that they cannot afford tissues? I also know of teachers who, to do a proper job for their charges; pay out of pocket for items such as Velcro and lamination.
What can we conclude from all this?
One may assume the Mayor cannot attack others areas for savings as these services and items seem relatively minor in the scope of things. The only other explanation is that city government is at war with its special needs population and desirous of forcing them from NYC to save money. In either case it is wrong and unbecoming of the metropolis. Mayor Bloomberg has done may fine services for the city, but I am disappointed (especially since I voted for him…3 times) with the handling of special education and the overall treatment of the special needs population. As a parent of a child with autism in NYC I only hope the next administration will show appropriate regard for the disabled.
In my pervious posts on this situation I have mentioned sending my requests to the Mayor’s office, Chancellor Walcott’s office, my city councilman (Dan Garodnik) and the Speakers office. Only the Speaker has responded to my emails and has followed up again recently saying she would follow up with the DOE as “No child should be forced to sit on a school bus for hours to travel such a short distance”.