Monday, February 11, 2013

Bus Strike Day 18: The word of the day is: useless.

As in the information that the DOE is providing is useless. 

In response to why my students can’t get to school, I figured it was time, as we approach Week 5 of the NYC Bus Strike, to review what I’ve been hearing from families and why the solutions that the Department of Education (DOE) are providing do not help.

Let’s look at this DOE website for checking the status of a bus route. First, if you don’t have internet in your home or even a computer, you’re not getting to this site. Secondly, if you’re not able to read English, forget about it.

Today, we discovered that a bus that has not been picking up students or showing up at school is listed on the above site as never having been disrupted. OPT (Office of Pupil Transportation) is currently investigating.

The DOE website also continues to link to this useless page, with all the companies saying their overbooked.

All of these resources are just too much for families to navigate. Over and over again, I hear its not necessarily the transportation vehicles, but the time it would take from work to accompany their child back and forth.

Let me share some examples from my class of 12 students who have multiple disabilities with you.

Three students come from the Bronx and one is ambulatory but mom can’t leave her vending stand in Manhattan for the amount of time that would be needed to pick her child up, bring her to childcare in the Bronx and return to Manhattan. It would cause a considerable loss of income. She has arranged for her child to stay with an elderly neighbor and also has other children she needs to get to school. Mom also has limited English and speaks a rare language, so it is difficult to communicate the transportation options that change rapidly.

Two other families in the Bronx have tried calling various accessible options so that their children can be transported safely in their wheelchairs, but have been unsuccessful in securing one. One set of parents has special needs themselves and it is just too much for them to navigate, although they keep assuring me that they will try. The other parents keep calling the companies I give them numbers for with no success and have practically given up. This has been too much for this student’s mother, as he recently had a feeding tube placed and has a variety of other health needs that she is constantly managing.

In Manhattan, closer to school does not necessarily make its easier because it still requires an adult to be available to accompany a child to and from school. One student who uses a wheelchair has other siblings with special needs who go to different schools; does mom have to choose who gets to go to school? Other families have come down with the flu, mom is willing to try a taxi, but she’s sick and can’t manage it.

Another family doesn’t understand what their child is missing out on at school and has arranged for him to stay home with grandma. They said they will wait the strike out and they don’t want the Mayor to permanently take away the service if they make it look too easy. I can’t make them take the information I have and unless their motivated their not going to navigate through it. I think this one makes me the saddest, because I think it happens a lot with families with children with multiple disabilities who don’t understand all the therapy, interaction and skills they are getting at school and how it directly impacts their children’s quality of life.

Also in Manhattan, there is another family with an ambulatory child, but the father works nights and his mother, who is new to this country, does not feel comfortable navigating the city with her child with special needs and no English. Again, I give the information, not sure if its fully comprehended, and tell them to hang in there.

Three families have successfully navigated public transportation, but their attendance is still inconsistent because it is so time-consuming and exhausting. I shared one particular experience here. One father works nights and has 2 other children that need to be taken to their neighborhood schools while his wife provides childcare out of their home. Another student doesn’t understand why her yellow bus isn’t coming and it’s a fight for mom to get her on the subway. Mom asked me in her limited English to give her a pep talk on the subject of how “big girls take the train.”

This brings me to today and why it was a particularly frustrating day. I’m not talking frustrating like a little something annoyed me, I’m talking about a day that makes you question your morals, the way the world works and why I work in a system that doesn’t value the work I do or the children I teach.

Today, after once again being questioned by administration on whether I was distributing the DOE’s information to parents, much of which I’ve collected from websites like Advocate for Children and Resources for Children with Special Needs myself and have passed on to said administrators, I asked, as a teacher, is it my responsibility to be distributing this information? I do it out of the goodness of my heart and because I can’t stand not seeing my students come to school. I communicated with my parents regularly even before the #busstrike. But I fear that my consistent phone calls have prevented others from being held accountable for this information being distributed in multiple languages so that families are truly assisted. 

So what do I do now?

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