Friday, September 7, 2012

Bus nightmare

I'll post more details about how we got here, but Kannon started at his new school, YAI Gramercy, on Wednesday.  The good news is that he loves the school and really looks forward to going each day.  The bad news is that the NYC DOE has changed the bus system to "regional busing" which has caused citywide problems.  I just wrote the email below to the Manhattan borough president.  Hopefully it will get someone's attention.  Rather than re-hash the entire story here, I'm posting the email below with the details.   I'm sure things will get worked out soon and the school has been great about everything.  It's not their fault at all, but they have been wonderfully helpful.  I'll also post a little about his school, the decision to enroll him there and our IEP meeting later.  I can tell you, I will be having a giant glass of wine tonight!

To Whom it may concern:

I am writing to you with an extremely confusing and distressing situation.  My son, Kannon, (ID #XXXXXXXXX) started at a new preschool (YAI Gramercy) on Friday.  We were thrilled when he was accepted to the school.  Initially, YAI and all of the other public settings we applied to had rejected him.  The only places that accepted him were private schools for special needs children with above average intelligence.  We were all set to start legal proceedings when YAI called with the offer.  We jumped on the chance, as we had a strong preference for a public setting.  We were also looking forward to Kannon being able to build some independence by riding the bus.

At the school orientation, we were told that the school system had switched to regional busing and that we should be contacted by the bus company, Consolidated, directly "right before school starts".  We waited all day Tuesday for a phone call as directed.  Finally, I called Consolidated at 4pm.  I was told that the drivers were making calls from 3pm until 6pm and to call back if we had not heard by 6.  Since nobody called, I did call Consolidated back at 6pm.  It took them a very long time to find my son's name.  Finally, she told me his pick up time was 7am.  I was outraged, as we live on 94th and Columbus.  His school is a mere 60 blocks away at 34th Street and 10th. My child has autism and is 3 1/2 years old with a dual recommendation for outside services.  No 3 year old should be on a bus for 4 1/2 hours a day, especially when their actual school day is only 5 hours and especially when you have a special needs child with attention and sensory issues.  The woman on the other end explained that she was customer service and to call back at 6:30am the next day to verify the information with dispatch.

When I hung up with Consolidated, I immediately, sent the attached email to the office of pupil transportation and asked that someone contact me the next day. 

I called on Wednesday morning at 6:30am, less than 3 hours prior to the start of his first day of school.  This time, I was told that there was no child by that name in the system.  They could not find him by name, birthdate or by id number.  They told me that the school never gave his information to OPT and that must be why they did not have him in the system.  Although I suppose there could have been a clerical error in the process, this was blatantly false.  Needless to say, we had to take him to school ourselves. 

Around 10am, I received a phone call from Hattie Thomas at OPT.  She asked that I call her back to discuss the situation.  Unfortunately, the number is not in service
(718) 482-6976.  I called the Office of Pupil Transportation to try to reach her.  They also tried to find Kannon in the system by name, ID number and birth date and ultimately told me that he was not in the system.  I sent email to the general OPT address and Hattie called me right away. She was very apologetic and helpful.  She assured me that she was working to resolve the situation to the best of her ability. 

Yesterday morning (9/6) out of curiosity, I did wait to see if a bus would show up.  I waited from 6:50 until 7:45 and no bus ever came.  This provided further confirmation that there is a major breakdown of communication going on. 

My husband spoke with an administrator at the school who informed us that our CPSE district rep, Mari Jo Fisher, had neglected to
contact the "appropriate people to let them know that Kannon was approved for busing, which is why Consolidated does not have your info but OPT does."  Upon leaving the school, my husband called the CPSE office and asked to be connected to Mari Jo Fisher.  The first voicemail he reached was for someone else.  He left a message there just in case and then called back and asked to be connected again.  He did indeed reach Mari Jo's voice mail that time and left a message.  We never heard back from her. 

This morning, as I was walking out the door to go to work, our phone rang.  There was a woman on the other end who asked if I was Kannon's

 mother.  When I replied yes, she said, "the bus is here."  I was in utter disbelief.  I explained that we have never received a call with any route info, pick up time or driver information from consolidated.  Unfortunately, she did not speak English well enough to have a phone conversation.  She handed the phone to the matron, who also did no speak English well enough to have a phone conversation.  I asked them to wait a moment and went outside to speak with them in person.  They were two lovely ladies who appeared as confused and I was.  I explained again that nobody had ever called us with any pick up time, route number, or bus information.  They told me that his pic up time is 7:40.  I still find that insanely early, considering I could walk to the school and back in that amount of time.  The more concerning thing is the utter lack of communication.  I'm sure that you are a reasonable person and understand why a parent would not blindly put their child on a bus with two strangers and no other information other than their word. 

I tried to call this morning to lodge a complaint and once again, I was told that my son was not in the system.   If you can't find my son's computer record, how on earth am I supposed to entrust his care to you to ensure that he gets to and from school safely?  If Consolidated can't even take the time to make a phone call and just assumes that a parent psychically knows that a bus is coming, I can't imagine why the DOE would EVER use this company. 

This entire situation has destroyed my faith in the CPSE system.  There are so many outrageous issues here that I don't even know where to begin.  One of the reasons we decided to go with YAI was for the convenience of bussing.  That "convenience" has been nothing short of a nightmare.  Secondly, we are in the same borough as the school and a direct 60 blocks north of the school.  We had asked approximately what the bussing times were like last year and we were told they were around 45 minutes to 1 hour.  We understand that these were not set times and that there could be some variation, but to go from that to 1 1/2 to 2 hours, double the time, is ridiculous.  It's not as if we live in Brooklyn or Queens and are coming into Manhattan.  We live in Manhattan, and not even Northern Manhattan or Inwood.  We live below 96th Street and the school is in midtown!!!! 

I can't believe that anyone with a basic understanding of toddlers, let alone special needs toddlers, would ever expect them to endure a 3 to 4 1/2 hour commute each day, attend 5 hours of school, and receive additional therapies outside of school.  That would be impossible for most adults, let alone a 3 year old.  These buses are not carrying cargo or delivering supplies.  They are carrying children on their way to school to learn.  A lengthy bus ride for a child with sensory and attention issues could very well undermine the purpose of school.  If children are worn out from a long bus ride, how can they be expected to learn to the best of their ability?  How are they supposed to be mentally alert and ready to go for therapy sessions?

Further, how could you reasonably expect to a parent to entrust the most important thing in their lives, their child, to a company that can't bother to make a simple phone call.  Parent should be provided with a specific driver name & contact number, matron name & contact number, route number, detailed route information and a bus number.  I completely distrust consolidated at this point. 

I sincerely hope that our horrible experience thus far is unique, but from what I've heard from other parents, I am quite sure that it is not.  We have heard people say that they never received a call, buses haven't shown up, one child was on a bus where neither the driver nor the matron spoke English.  You need to understand that many of these children have communication issues.  If the drivers and matrons struggle to speak with parents, it's impossible to think that they would be able to handle 16 children with communication issues. 

I sincerely hope that you will take a hard look at what you're doing.  Undoubtedly, this ridiculous regional busing was to save money.  You may be saving money, but it is at the expense of the children's well-being, health and education.   Heads should roll for this. It is inexcusable that the greatest city in the world is failing the children that need these services the most.  Not to mention, the burden and stress that is placed on parents. 

I expect to hear back from you with a response and I also expect someone from Consolidated call me with Kannon's details route info, route number, driver and matron names and contact information. 

Thank you,



Kara said...

I am so sorry to hear about your situation with bussing. I am a principal at a CPSE program and we have had the same experience. Have things gotten better for you in terms of transport at this point?

Allison (Dashiell's Mom) said...

Hi Kara,
Things are slowly improving. The bus company has changed, but we have yet to have an on-time pickup or on-time drop off either way. That said, the new bus company does answer the phone, the driver and matron are lovely and the official pick up time is much more reasonable. With all of that, I'm much more willing to have some patience while they work out the kinks.