How the NYC Bus Strike has Affected Kids with Special Needs

school bussesLast week, the union that represents the bus drivers in New York City went on strike. A total of 152,000 students rely on those busses to get to and from school. Around 22,500 of them are students who have special needs. The strike has already negatively affect these students and their families.

Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union went on strike last week. It represents more than 8,000 school bus drivers and matrons. The matrons are the people who accompany children on the bus and make sure that the children get on and off the bus safely.

The dispute is about job protections. The union wants employee protections. They say that current drivers with skills and experience could suddenly lose their jobs once their contracts are up in June. New York City is trying to cut transportation costs, and has put bus contracts with private bus companies up for bid.

New York City, however, cannot do what the union is asking for. There was a decision made by a Court of Appeals that prevents the city from offering job security and seniority to bus drivers who aren’t New York employees. The union, however, feels that the city is misrepresenting the court’s decision.

Meanwhile, 22,500 students who have special needs are suddenly without transportation to and from school. Rachel Howard is the director of Resources for Children with Special Needs. It is a non-profit organization. She said:

This is catastrophic. The more vulnerable and severely disabled the child, the more catastrophic it is.

The New York City Education Department noted that, in most schools, the attendance for general education was at normal levels. Some Special Education programs, however, were described as “half-empty”. The strike started on Wednesday. On Thursday, 49% of the students who were enrolled in Special Education showed up at school. On Friday, 62% arrived at school.

There is a program at Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Westchester County. It is for 61 students who live in New York City and who have long-term illnesses. Four of those children made it to the program on Wednesday. A total of 9 arrived at the program on Thursday, and 7 arrived on Friday.

The city told parents that they would be reimbursed for the cost of alternative transportation. The problem is that many parents don’t have the initial funds to spend. This is making it more difficult for parents to get their children to and from school during the strike. There is concern that students who cannot arrive at school will end up regressing.

Another big problem is the abrupt change that the bus strike forces the students to cope with. Many students who have an autism spectrum disorder rely on consistency. They are expecting to get on a yellow school bus and that the bus will bring them to school. That is not what is happening now, and this can be extremely stressful for the students.

Image by Alex Twix on Flickr