School Bus Strike Impacts Students with Autism

Parents have had to make transportation arrangements for students in more than half of the special ed routes affected by the strike.

Parents have had to make transportation arrangements for students in more than half of the special ed routes affected by the strike.

Whether parents of students with autism agree with the reasons for the bus strike in New York or not,  the change in routine affects their children’s mood, their  regulation, their access to therapies and ultimately their ability to be successful learners every day the strike goes on.

by Theron Mohamed -

Buses, trains, cabs and cars, a 22-mile commute, and six hours in a school supply room. That was a recent Wednesday for Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, who has a 7-year-old with autism and a full-time job.

The current school bus strike, now in its third week, has left thousands of the city’s autistic children, like Quinones-Fontanez’s son, Norrin, without a ride to school. It’s disrupting their critical therapy, inconveniencing parents and interrupting their teachers’ schedules. But some parents believe the strike will protect senior staff jobs, leading to better quality of care for special needs children in the long run.

Only 2,860 bus routes were running on Thursday morning, out of 7,700 citywide, according to a Department of Education spokesperson. Just over 38 percent of special education routes, where buses typically pick up children at their homes, were in operation. These serve many of the city’s 7,000 autistic students, who are among 54,000 schoolchildren with special needs.

Quinones-Fontanez’ son, Norrin, attends a special needs school in Westchester, 22 miles from their Bronx home. When the bus strike began two weeks ago, his mother took vacation time off from her job as an administrative assistant. As his father couldn’t get off work for a school pick-up and she can’t drive, she spent the first three days at home with her son.  But she quickly noticed that he missed his friends, the routine of catching the morning bus, and the school’s facilities, which include a sensory room.

“By Sunday night I could already see changes in him,” she said. “I could sense his anxiety. He was wondering why he wasn’t going to school.”

“I was just telling him that the bus drivers weren’t happy.”

After seven school days, two of which Quinones-Fontanez spent in the supply room at Norrin’s school waiting for him to finish, Norrin’s regular bus resumed service on Monday. Before then, her greatest concern was Norrin losing the progress he’s made in school, which he attends 12 months a year.

“Even after Christmas or spring break, his teachers have reported that when he returns there’s a clear difference,” she said. “He does fall off.”

The bus strike that could damage these children’s development is a response to the city soliciting bids for 1,100 school bus routes last month, which serve 22,500 special needs students aged between five and 18. Local Amalgamated Transit Union 1181 is protesting against the removal of Employment Protection Provisions from the contracts. These clauses guaranteed that if bus drivers were laid off because their companies lost city contracts, they could choose from openings at other companies, and the longest-serving ones had first pick. The new contracts don’t require firms to hire laid-off drivers. Calls to the union were not returned.

The city argues these provisions are illegal. Opening up contracts to new bids is Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s strategy to cut the $1.1 billion spent each year on school buses in New York City. That’s a cost of $6,900 per student, compared to $3,124 in Los Angeles.

But city-union strife means nothing to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, many of whom attend schools in Brooklyn. Children with the disorder often struggle with social interaction and communication, and display repetitive behavior. They require great attention and care to benefit from schooling.

More than half of the 36 children who attend The Yaldeinu School in Borough Park arrived late last week.

“Routine is so important to these children,” said Malka Wiener, a teacher at the school. “It affects their mood and regulation. They’re rushed and their busy and it affects how they start off the day.”

She added that some of the children remained worried throughout the day, and were confused when their parents didn’t pick them up. Time-constrained parents could also struggle to complete homework with their kids, and children staying late meant teachers had less time to prepare for the next day.

Six out of 20 ASD students at Imagine Academy in Midwood, Brooklyn, have been stranded by the strike. Only two of the five school buses are working.

Read more at Autistic Children Feel Brunt Of Bus Strike.

[Via The Brooklyn Ink]

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