The Wheels On The Bus Go… WHERE?

14 Apr

The start of the next school year in September is going to be a big time for our family, as both boys make the leap to full-time school. In August, George is being discharged from the therapy centre where he currently spends his mornings, and James will be graduating from half-day Kindergarten and going into First Grade. It is a big adjustment for both boys, and although I expect some fallout, particularly from George, I am not too concerned. I have faith in both of the boys’ schools.

It’s the school buses I’m worried about.

For James, this isn’t an issue. We live too close to his school for buses to be in the picture for him (much to his disappointment; James would love to ride in a school bus like his big brother).

George, on the other hand, needs the bus, and four years’ worth of problems in the school bus system have taught us a very unfortunate fact: when it comes to scheduling school bus runs, special needs children are treated as an afterthought. The children who do not have any disabilities – in other words, the ones who as a rule are more adaptable and resilient – have their scheduling sorted out very early on in the school year. And the children who do have disabilities – the ones who are vulnerable, have higher levels of anxiety and more reliance on routines – easily spend six weeks or more being picked up at different times, by different drivers, and spending inordinately long periods of time on the bus, while their parents try to figure out what is going on.

Like most parents of young children, I want to know where my kids are at all times. I want to be able to know that at this time, George is on the bus, or at that time, James is eating lunch at the daycare. I do not want to be wondering whether or not George is still at the therapy centre and why the school is calling me to ask why he hasn’t shown up yet.

Last year, right after the Thanksgiving weekend, there was an incident with George’s bus that, while turning out OK, could have had terrible consequences. At that point, we had struggled with the bus company for almost two months getting George’s schedule worked out, and we thought that it had finally been resolved. George was being picked up at a consistent time from the therapy centre by a driver he knew from the previous year, and he was spending half an hour at most on the bus before being dropped off at school for the afternoon.

On the first day back after the Thanksgiving weekend, George was picked up at the usual time by the usual bus driver. He was driven to school.

The only problem was this: it was the wrong school.

Thank goodness George had on a seatbelt lock, which prevented him from getting up, walking off the bus, and getting lost or worse. Thanks to the seatbelt lock, someone had to actually get onto the bus to remove the seatbelt.

The teacher who took George off the bus didn’t know what was going on. She took the driver’s word that George was supposed to be there. It was only when the driver had left and George was standing in the principal’s office with a confused babble of grown-ups surrounding him that someone realized that a mistake had been made.

For a regular kid this would have been bad enough. For a child with autism who is afraid of people and places he doesn’t know, and who has severe communication impairments, it was downright traumatic.

Somehow the principal figured out who George was, and through a series of phonecalls, was able to figure out where he was supposed to be. A child’s booster seat was dug up from somewhere, and the principal bundled George into his car and drove him to the right school.

It only then, when George had arrived at his own school, that someone thought of calling me and Gerard to tell us what had happened. Up until that point, we had been completely oblivious to all of this.

While we were unbelievably grateful to have our child home safe and sound at the end of that day, we were haunted by thoughts of “what if”. The thoughts of “what if this happens again” prompted us to spend the next few weeks trying to figure out what the hell had happened.

We never did receive satisfactory answers. We do know that the bus driver was not at fault, that she was given the wrong information from higher up. We also know that in said higher-up’s attempt to avoid responsibility, the bus driver was relieved of her duties. There were no attempts made to figure out what had gone wrong so that steps could be taken to prevent it from happening again.

And in a few short months, we are going to have to fight a new battle for a new school year.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alextakesphotos/149198520)

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3 Responses to “The Wheels On The Bus Go… WHERE?”

  1. Sara April 14, 2011 at 3:17 PM #

    Tell me about it…the girls went on the bus in Reno and Eh…we had some minor snags. I sent Gabe on the Bus this morning for the first time * gulp*….Thankfully he arrived home in 1 piece…but they had a complete wrong phone number for me…not even sure where they got it! *GULP*

  2. Asta Burrows April 15, 2011 at 2:42 AM #

    I am shocked! How scary is it if you can’t trust that people will do their job – and do it well… you would have thought that special needs childrens schedules would be sorted out first, and that they would do everything they could to help and support you/them! It is just unbelieveble… sorry – I am speechless!

  3. midwestliving April 22, 2011 at 12:27 PM #

    We have experienced busing horrors as well. We actually pulled our son from a special ed bus because the driver was really mean to him and would call tattling about how my son was acting on her bus. He has autism and sensory issues but is bright and communicates pretty well when asked about things by people he trusts.

    He said the busdriver and para would talk about kids and their families. he said they did not say nice things (he had specifics).

    The breaking point was one afternoon when he was just starting to be mainstreamed into some classes and he would be excused a few minutes early so he could catch the special ed bus. Anyway, the teacher forgot (I understand this), and let him out a few minutes late. By the time he got out to catch his bus it was gone. The school called the bus back to pick up my son. She was really mad and told him he needed to be out earlier. (Why are we yelling at child who has no control over this matter is beyond me). Anyway, then they proceeded to talk about this all the way to the high school where they pick up some more students.

    By the time he got home he was very angry, frustrated and near tears. He had then of course refused a few requests by the bus driver which further infuriated her. She called me and wanted me to come out to the bus to tell me he is suspended from the bus for 3 days due to his behavior. What about her behavior?

    It is important to note here that all of the other students are non verbal and much more mentally challenged than my son.

    When I called to complain and ask for a new driver I was told that all of the families love her!!! How might they know this?

    After the suspension was removed he was placed on the regular ed bus and has done just fine. (not that he would have earlier, but this worked for us).

    I feel for you. I promise things get easier. I cannot believe that you were not called and been in on the mistake. How sad that this skilled driver lost her/his job over this and equally sad that the right heads did not roll.

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