The wheels on the bus go round and round – or do they?

15 Sep

My younger son James, who is all of four years old, walks to school because he does not qualify for bussing.  I drop him off at the daycare on my way to work, and one of the daycare staff walks him and a few other kids to the school where they attend Kindergarten, just a couple of blocks away. When they are done with school, they are picked up and walked back to the daycare.  It is an arrangement that works very well.

The fact that James walks to school is a godsend. It means that I only have to deal with the annual frustration of getting the bussing right for one child instead of two.

Ever since George entered the school system three years ago (cripes, has it really been that long?) there has been one issue or another with the bus arrangements.  Don’t get me wrong, I know what a scheduling nightmare it can be.  I am the first to appreciate the chaos that must reign in the bus companies in September of every year. I can imagine how tough it is for the drivers to deal with last-minute route changes and impossibly tight schedules.

But how far is my tolerance supposed to go? Where does one cross the line from being patient and understanding to wanting heads to roll because your child is being shuffled around by the system?

Our bus requirements are a little bit different to those of most families by virtue of the fact that George is picked up from one place before school and dropped off at a different place after school.  Gerard takes him to the therapy centre in the mornings.  A school bus picks him up at lunchtime to take him to school.  Another school bus picks him up from school at the end of the day to bring him home.  The issue is not with the pick-up and drop-off locations, it is a simple matter of timing.

Months ago, before we’d started making bussing arrangements for the new school year, the therapy centre made it clear to us that George’s pick-up time from there had to be no later than 11:45. When the morning kids are dismissed from the therapy centre each day, the afternoon kids come in. The therapy centre does not have the staff to be dealing with both the incoming afternoon kids and the morning kids whose busses haven’t shown up. Like many special ed programs, the therapy centre has a problem with staffing.  They don’t have teachers and therapists wandering the halls with nothing to do.

When I filled in the bus request form, I wrote the requirements on it as clear as day.  In big bold letters, emphasized with yellow highlighter, I wrote that pickup was to be no later than 11:45.  I gave the form the George’s teacher, everyone went away for their summer vacations, and that was the end of it.

Until George’s new bus driver called to tell us he would be picked up each day at 12:05.  Initially we weren’t too bothered by this, and neither was the therapy centre.  September, we thought.  New schedules, the need to transport kids to and from all kinds of places at all kinds of times, logistical nightmare. We notified the bus company that the pick-up time was a problem.  The bus company said it would be fixed within a week.

In the interim, Gerard would have to close down his shop each day to drive to the therapy centre, drop George off at school, and return to work.  Taking an hour out of his day that he really cannot afford right now.  After a few days of this, Gerard called up the bus company to ask them how things were moving along, and he was astonished by the stone wall of resistance that he met.

Not only had the problem not been sorted out, no-one was even trying. No-one wanted to try.  The general message Gerard got, in talking to one person after another, ad nauseum, was that the schedule was what it was and that nothing short of an act of God would change it.  Meanwhile, our son, who has autism and therefore a built-in resistance to changes in routine, is expected to sit idle for anywhere from twenty minutes to half an hour, not knowing what he is expected to do next or who’s coming to get him.

Gerard is nothing is not persistent, so he started phoning his way up the chain within both the bus company and  the school board.  He has been met with a variety of reactions ranging from indifference to arrogance to downright hostility.  At no point has he been anything other than polite and professional, and yet the responses have been baffling.

Through all of Gerard’s discussions and conversations with a number of people (he lost count somewhere after seventeen), a disturbing trend has emerged.  The bus scheduling difficulties had, for the most part, been resolved for the general schoolgoing population by the end of the first week of school.  By stark contrast, the vast majority of special needs kids still don’t have their transportation sorted out.  At the therapy centre that George attends, there are ten children needing transportation between the centre and school.  Of these, two children have correct bussing arrangements in place.  Which means there are eight autistic kids who are still confused about their schedules and anxious because they don’t know what’s coming next or when.  Although I don’t have any statistics, I hear similar stories from other therapy centres.

This whole situation is wrong on so many levels.  For a start, there’s the fact that this should not be a big deal.  We should not be getting this kind of resistance to a simple request that was made correctly in the first place.  But far more importantly, the special needs kids in our society are the ones who experience displacement, anxiety, and confusion. Why are there elements in our society that treat them as an afterthought?

As of this point in time, the problem has still not been resolved.  However, the supervisor (Of the bus company?  The school board?) has admitted that the situation is unacceptable and that it will be sorted out.

On a side note, I am fascinated by the reactions I’ve received from friends and acquaintances I have spoken about this to. One guy told me that all bussing should be done away with because there’s no real need for it.  He started on the age-old story about how, as a kid, he had to walk five miles to school in the snow and five miles back.  Yeah, right.  I’m going to let my son with autism walk to and from school by himself.  Then there was a lady who insisted that this is something I should just “suck up and deal with”, that as a parent it is my responsibility to get George to and from school.  This is not strictly true: it is my parental responsibility to ensure that safe transportation arrangements are made for my child.  As long as those arrangements are in place, the responsibility falls to whoever the arrangements are made with – in this case, the bus company.  It is also my parental responsibility to go to work each day and earn a living so I can feed, clothe, and shelter my children.

Things are not the same now as they were twenty or thirty or fifty years ago.  Back then, parents were fine with their kids walking to school.  There was less high-speed traffic on the roads, there were fewer pedophiles about, and parents could send their kids out of the front door in the mornings with the reasonable expectation that they would see them again at the end of the day.

In the case of younger or special needs children, if there wasn’t a bus available, Mom would be available to walk her offspring to school.  Back then, Moms tended to stay home more and the Dads were the breadwinners.  In most modern-day partnerships, both spouses have to work full-time out of economic necessity.

The argument that “what worked when I was a kid will work now” just doesn’t hold water.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: