Today I had four students, after averaging just one over the past week. As I taught reading and math, I could not help but think of the eight other students who have now missed out on nine days of instruction. Following Hurricane Sandy, there was public outrage over students missing 5 days of instruction, but my students who use wheelchairs can miss 9 days with no end in sight and then its hardly covered in the press. All we see are the workers, but what about my students?
My students don’t do worksheets, they need to be in school to learn and receive therapy. One NY Daily News article described the pain not receiving regular physical therapy causes for students (1/17/13). Routine is essential to my students learning important life skills that give them the ability to communicate and be independent. You may think I am a babysitter, but every skill I teach reduces the cost of my students’ care later on in life, and your future tax burden.
As a teacher, I am the one fielding the sad phone calls from the families in broken English asking what can they do, they live in a different borough, it would take two buses and a train, they work nights. I hear them tell me how their children wake up every morning hoping that this will be the day they can finally go back to school. The children feel like they are being punished and don’t understand why.
The past two days my phone has been ringing off the hook about the new voucher system for car service. The Department of Ed’s Office of Pupil Transportation took the time to call all families with students who use wheelchairs to tell them that the city would pay for their cabs. But they didn’t actually have any cab company numbers for the families and directed the families to call the school. In turn, the school could only offer paperwork for the cabs, if the families could find one on their own who would wait two weeks to be paid. Here is the DOE website that offers a 70-page list which does not specify which would take vouchers. Helpful? Try also not being able to read English.
Now in Albany during budget hearings, when asked how attendance has been affected during the bus strike, Chancellor Walcott replies, “not at all.” Really, not at all? How about we ask the families? ( https://twitter.com/yasmeenkhan ) Would you consider attendance only reaching 73% in District 75 (NYC’s Special Ed district) today just fine? ( Gothamschools.org )
This bus strike is slowly draining me, as if it’s not hard enough to work in NYC schools and quietly observe the inequities. Now the inequities are glaringly obvious. It is the families that are financially secure that can foot the bill to get their children to school, because its not only car fare, but also lost wages to spend an hour each way to bring your child to school and an hour each way to pickup your child up from school, if you only have one child that is.
It is time to have a real conversation about the real problems behind busing special needs students out of their communities for their educations. It is time to get these students back to school.