The School Bus: How Do We Make Sure Our Children Will Be Safe?

Last week I wrote this – Emma Refuses To Get Off The Bus And A Self Advocate Is Born!  That Friday afternoon, I received a letter from the OPT (Office of Pupil Transportation) saying we had a new bus and route number for Emma and to call the bus company for a pick up time.  When I called they informed me I would need to call this morning to get a specific pick up time, but assured me that this time the bus was scheduled to take her to the correct school.   This morning I called and received their anticipated pick up time and told Em that I would go downstairs to wait with her.  Emma was noticeably and justifiably nervous about getting on another bus after last week’s mishap and so I consoled her by saying I would talk to the driver, make sure they were going to the correct school and see if they’d allow me to ride on the bus with her, just this once.

When the bus arrived I spoke with the driver asking that I be allowed to accompany Emma just this one time, given how badly things went last week.  The driver told me he’d have to get an okay from the company, despite the bus matron’s loud protests that this was not allowed.  Emma held onto my hand as we stood together on the sidewalk and waited while he called various phone numbers, each time being told I would not be allowed to accompany my daughter this ONE time.

I have to interrupt this narrative to say, this is not the first time we’ve had issues with OPT and the bus for my daughter.  A few years ago a driver picked Emma up and then, because it was summer and most of the children on his regular route no longer took the bus, he arrived at her school 45 minutes early.  Instead of telling the bus company and adjusting the pick up time or telling us so that we could call the company, he drove to a side street, parked the bus and waited for FORTY-FIVE MINUTES with Emma, the only child in the entire bus who had no idea why she was being held captive in an empty school bus on a side street for, what must have seemed like an eternity.  He did not try to explain to her what was going on, it did not occur to him (evidently) that being told to remain seated for that length of time might be distressing.  The only reason we even learned of this was because Emma came home from school that afternoon agitated and upset and because she is echolaic and is a terrific mimic and captured the driver’s voice and accent so that I was able to finally figure out why my daughter was scripting,  “You sit back down!  You have to WAIT!  I told you to sit down and be quiet!”  As there are no cameras on board, I had only Emma’s scripts to rely on.  We then called the bus company and our lawyer and Emma never rode with that driver again.

So this morning when the bus told me they would not allow me to accompany my daughter, I did not put her on the bus, but took her to school myself.  After numerous phone calls to the OPT, her school and the  bus company it was explained to me that they are not legally allowed to have parents ride the bus as it opens them up to all kinds of other issues, the least of which is if one parent is allowed, all parents then must be.  I get it.  Really, I do.  I understand.  But how do we move forward?  How do we make sure our children will be safe?  How do we entrust our children to people who may be given the wrong information?  How is it that there are no cameras on board busses taking Special Education children to school?  How is it that the State of NY does not have a law that ALL school busses have a GPS on their busses?  How is it that once our child steps on that bus, there is no way to supervise what goes on?

Tonight we will, once again do our best to prep Emma for tomorrow’s bus ride.  We will tell her that the bus is going to pick her up and will then pick up two more children, that they will then drop some of those children off at a different school, before driving Emma and the remaining children to her new school.  I have asked the school to have a familiar and friendly face greet her tomorrow morning.  I will do my best to reassure her.

I will tell her she is going to be taken to the correct school this time.

I will go over what she can do if she becomes nervous or scared.

And I will hope that she’s going to be okay.

Waiting for the bus this morning

Emma at the American Natural History Museum

26 responses to “The School Bus: How Do We Make Sure Our Children Will Be Safe?

  1. This is not the best solution, (a) as it would obviously be yet another financial burden that only parents who can afford to can take on and (b) it is the state and Federal governments that should be keeping our children safe. Nonetheless, I’m wondering if you might equip *Emma* with a GPS. A used iPhone can server as a GPS with Apple’s “Find My iPhone” feature. You can watch in real-time as the bus takes Emma to school. The phone can also be used to record. The sound might be muffled from inside a backpack, but you would have a recording of anything went awry. I also image there might be other nanny cam-like devices available.

    • Hi Rob, not sure I understood. You mean trying to get the state to require all school busses have GPS and/or cameras on public school busses?
      Good idea about the “Find my iphone” feature. Will do that.

  2. First of all, what a great backpack! : ) But back on topic, i was suggesting a two pronged approach (and did so over on TPGA): since local government is being negligent in not keeping disabled children safe, we must do what we can individually and in small groups. Additionally, working in the public sphere to institute measures that other school districts have *already* taken, such as full video coverage of special education busses, is also essential.

    • Hi Rob! Yeah, the back pack is awesome, I want to have a whole jumpsuit like that and I’ll wear it when speaking to the bus company…

      Not to beat a dead horse, but.. I really want to understand.. What did you mean in your first comment when you wrote – “This is not the best solution, (a) as it would obviously be yet another financial burden that only parents who can afford to can take on and (b) it is the state and Federal governments that should be keeping our children safe.”

      Which solution were you referring to? That was the part I didn’t understand. 🙂

  3. Arianne, I SO totally hear you on this one. With Marisa being non-verbal, this has always been a HUGE concern for me! We’ve had our own issues with the school bus company, as well.

    Usually they’re pretty good. But this summer, when Risa had two days of “early bird” school just for the spec ed kids, we arranged transportation beforehand. They completely did NOT pick her up, she wasn’t even on the schedule! I was about ready to take her myself, when they sent a dispatch to the driver. I have a policy, if they are more than fifteen minutes off schedule, I’m on the phone….immediately. My child cannot speak up to say whether or not THEY are mistake! (Still SO proud of Emma for that, btw!) Luckily, she takes the bus with her brother for now. But in two years, they’ll ship her off to junior high and he’ll still be in elementary school, and she’ll once again ride alone.

    The drivers and matrons, most of them have been great. The driver they have this year I do NOT care for. On the very first day of school, she chewed me out for walking up the steps on the bus. Keep in mind, my kid has been riding the bus since she was THREE, and no one has EVER told me not to do this. Something about how if I slip or fall, they couldn’t be held liable and be sued, blah blah. Ok, that’s fine. But I honestly didn’t know, and wasn’t trying to get anyone in trouble!

    Then one day a few weeks ago, I had just woken up from lying down. I was waiting on the porch for them, and must have looked a bit ruffled, she quite rudely asked me, “Are we showing up to early for you?” Then another day, again quite rudely, she asked “So, do you just stay home all day?” I explained that my husband is self employed and I help run the clerical side of his business, and that I’m also a part time student. Not that it’s any of her business!

    Wow, sorry to go off on that tangent, there! Anyhow, as I said, I’ve found the best policy is to just be on the phone immediately. I do believe our busses have cameras here. But if my kids aren’t home within 10-15 minutes of when they should be, I wanna know where the heck they are! If something like the 45 minute wait in the summer thing had happened to Risa, I never would’ve even known about it. It’s all just SO scary!

    On another note, I have that meeting today I told you about. The one for Risa’s behavoir issues in the classroom. (She has since graduated from pinching and grabbing, to hitting and kicking). I don’t know what their solutions might be, but the gal who is the autism coordinator for the whole school district is attending. I’m taking my mother in law along for moral support and as a witness, lol! She actually goes to alot of this stuff with me, since Joel can’t get off work.

    Anyhow, I’ll be sure to update later and let you know what they say. I admit I am a bit anxious! Hopefully it’ll all go well.

    • Just quickly about the meeting – do they feel Marisa’s behavior could in any way be due to something that is going on at school? Is she acting out because she is resistant to something they’re working on or doing? Is there any one in particular she seems to do this with more than anyone else? Marisa IS trying to communicate her upset, she isn’t acting in a vacuum. Does the school seem to understand that?
      Good luck Angie. Glad you’re bringing your Mother-in-law with you for support!

      As far as the bus situation, yeah, it’s pretty horrendous. (And I’m really tired and feeling beaten down by it as well.) But I will rise to the occasion and try to work with them…

      • The only time she acts like this is during worktime, when they’re trying to get her to do something she doesn’t want to do. The other day at therapy, Jesse and I were in there with her. She grabbed her therapist by the shirt, and grabbed and twisted Jesse’s arm a bit. Once they found an activity she liked, she was fine.

        She rarely acts like this at home, (although she’s been known too) and only gets angry when we tell her “no” to something. So, basically, it’s only when she’s not getting her way that she acts out. Left to her own devices, she’s a fairly happy kid.

        I get that this is the only way she knows how to communicate. But she needs to know that it’s NOT ok to hurt people, kwim? She can sign, use her Alt Chat, use PECS, whatever she needs to do to let us know she’s angry, and it’s OK to be angry. But it’s not ok to hurt people. 😦

        I’m hoping she’ll start making progress communicating through a program called TeachTown. Have you ever heard of it? Apparently, she has taken very well too it, and even worked on it independently for about five minutes yesterday.

        Any suggestions for me at all? The meeting is in an hour. 😦

        • The only suggestion I have is that everyone spend some time validating Marisa’s feelings, before condemning her response. If you think about how you feel when you’re furious, just enraged and then if everyone tells you that they understand that you’re really angry but that you can’t yell or grind your teeth or curl your hands into a fist how that might make you just more enraged. I wonder if some time, real time was spent talking to her about how frustrated she feels and asked her what might make a difference, is it that she needs to feel more in control? Would setting a timer help her regulate, not that she doesn’t have to do the work, but can she have some say in how and when the work is done. Even if it means giving her a five minute timer to set and letting her set it, might help. Just a few thoughts… good luck. I’ll be thinking of you

          • That’s sort of what they’re going to try, I guess. They want to implement a First/Then system. First you do work tubs, then you listen to music – and so forth. The teacher is going to send home “homework” for her so we can practice this at home. They also said it was ok for her to bring her stuffed Ernie (or a similair one) to school, though I have my doubts that would help.

            We do try discussing it with her at home. I’ll tell Joel what her note said, then we’ll tell her either Yay, great job today, or try to figure out why she had a bad day. Of course, she can’t answer us, but will shake her head yes and no. It’s a start.

            Honestly, I didn’t feel like the meeting was very productive. Basically, she IS getting a bit better, it’s just taking time. They think alot of her behavoir is from watching other students, too – for example, she never kicked or hit until she saw another student doing it.

            Basically, we’re gonna see how this “system” works and play it by ear, for now. No simple solutions, huh?

  4. Yeah this is why so far I have been driving each of my kids to their different schools on different sides of town and have one do mornings and the other afternoons with them trading off in the therapy room at home for each of their ABA times. Which of course can only be done when one parent is the full time caregiver and only works from home like I do if at all. I don’t know what I would do otherwise. My memories of riding the bus myself are filled with harassment and minor bullying horrors that I just don’t want my babies to face right now. I know the short bus should be better than the bus transfers and high school students I faced as an elementary student but I still just can’t put her on. Plus her service dog requires an adult handler at all times so they would have to let me or her aide ride inside as well. Which of course they don’t want to do.

  5. Hi Ariane- I’ll explain in more depth. I meant that the solution i was proposing- having Emma carry an iPhone in her backpack that you could monitor for GPS and perhaps sound, is indeed a good solution for you and any other parent that (a) can afford it and (b) has the opportunity at home or work to monitor their child. Certainly, anyone who has concerns and meets the criteria above would benefit from this solution or a similar one.

    However, it seems to me that the real solution is not to privatize yet another thing that the government is obligated to do under ADA etc: keep our children and all children safe- but to force the local school district/city/state to take responsibility for school bus safety. Some school districts have installed video cameras on special ed buses for exactly this reason: to guarantee child safety. Instead of having (let’s say) 100,000 special ed children carrying iPhones etc. with them in New York state, if would be much better for the state and Federal governments to provide funds to keep children safe.

    i completely understand that in the current political environment, where, for example, it is crucial for the wealthy to pay a 15% capital gains rate on income that they get by doing nothing, while people who actually work for a living pay twice that, my desire may not be fulfilled soon; we are always told there is “no money.”

    So I was just trying to note that it would be great for our tax money to be spent on child safety instead of %&*(##$%. : )

    • Got it. When I read your first comment “this isn’t the best solution” I thought you were referring to my desire for there to be GPS and cameras on school busses, so this is where I became confused. Thank you for being patient with me on that one! 🙂

  6. sorry, Ariane, this is such a tough one. My son’s first day taking the bus home from preschool he was 3 and a half hours late. The bus company kept saying they were radioing his driver but getting no response. When i finally lost it and demanded that they tell me what that driver was doing with my child. the company got belligerent with me and said I had no right to accuse anyone of anything, he was probably just lost. At that point i hung up and called 911 and reported that this company had a bus load of disabled 3 and 4 year olds and could not locate the bus. I had a police officer at my house on the phone with them within 5 minutes and my son home within ten minutes. To this day I still have no idea what went on during that time, I let the police deal with it and never heard anything more. The next day I had a bus at the door with a new driver and it may have been one of the hardest things I ever did to put my little guy back on that bus. I feel for you and Emma. there are no easy answers. I too am confused why a 60 dollar gps is not installed on all these buses or cameras for that matter, even last year my son was bullied quite a bit on the bus….. there is only so much even a good monitor can catch.
    Good luck, and I love Rob’s idea for the tracker on the phone!

    • Oh no! What a nightmare!
      This must change. And yes, in the meantime, I’m going to look into the iPhone tracker so at least I know where she is. But he’s right, this is not a solution for ALL our children…

  7. To all – have never thought of having the Tracker phone, but not a bad idea at all. What I would REALLY love is for all special ed classrooms to be required to have cameras. I don’t think it’ll ever happen, but strongly feel that it should.

    Marisa’s teacher is supposed to be setting up a private Facebook page for just the parents in her class. I would like it to have a webcam on it, but for privacy issues, she says she can’t do that. Go figure.

    To Outrunning – that is HORRIBLE what happened to your little guy! Good for you for calling the police! I would’ve been in hysterics at that point, what do they not understand about that? Yikes.

    • Actually at Emma’s old school they did have cameras in all the classrooms. They used it as a training and teaching tool. I was never allowed to see the footage (!) but I was told it was very helpful.

  8. The whole bus thing scares me so much. I rode the bus every day from kindergarten to 10th grade (and drove 11th and 12th grade, because the public school buses were not free, but in fact, cost more than gas and insurance on the old family car). I rode the “normal” bus, and nearly always sat up front. But this isn’t a rant about my bus experience, which ranged from meh to whatever, but never really bad.

    What terrifies me, is all these stories I hear about crazy bus drivers, nearly always on special needs buses, that do stupid crazy things, like drive around for hours, take kids hostage, etc. They’re belligerent, and refuse to allow parents or other adults on the bus, which terrifies me even more. What the heck do they have to hide?! Their job is to get some very special kids from home to school, and back again, safely, and in a timely manner. What is so freaking hard about that? Why is it that they won’t allow GPS tracking or allow parents to come see their child on the bus? I know that these are the bad apples, and that most bus drivers are actually awesome wonderful people. But really, it makes you wonder what have they got to hide. If it were really a good organization, they’d allow for gps tracking and cameras and answer questions of parents. Especially when they’re charged with custody of nonverbal kids who may or may not be able to say exactly what happened to them on the bus.

    I’m sorry Emma’s had so much trouble with the bus this year! I hope it smooths out soon.

    • Thanks E. Just got off the phone with a close friend of mine who’s an education advocate. I’m going to meet with her to figure out what can be done. I really hate politics, but I keep getting pulled in that direction, ugh!

  9. We had something similar happen in my hometown when a teen girl with special needs was FORGOTTEN on the bus! Thankfully, in my school district, a driver AND aid are required at all times.

  10. ok, out of my” under the radar”…remember “my emma is 20, lots of experience in this department’.
    I have followed many, many buses after emma had been picked up. I was open about this with the driver and told him/her that I was following in my car while my daughter adjusted to her new routine. I would not get out of the car at any point nor at school. I did not do this for the trip home.

    Emma no longer is on a bus given our school situation now. however, she began school before the age of GPS. Frankly, I did this with my son riding his bike to school as well.

    everyone has different living situations. For years we only had 1 car so I had lots of juggling to do to achieve this arrangement. Emma seemed to like the bus and the teacher thought it was good for her to begin her day this way, so we all adjusted to my need to “stalk” for a while.

  11. It seems bad bus experiences are world wide and I just dont understand why they cant put cameras on buses. We have had some bad experiences too. I agree with Paige., Ariane if you have a car follow th bus at least for the first day if you are worried Emma might wind up at the wrong school again. I have know parents to do that too.

  12. My issue with busses won’t be passed to you. Emma knows and advocates well. Build on the fact that Emma resolved the last issue. Build her confidence with continued praises of how well she handled the last issue. Sometimes we have to let people know we trust them. And always have contingency plans. And hope that people will do their jobs. With one incident, erosion of trust begins. Emma is wary of the company so will undoubtedly be extra vigilant. Good luck with this one. I worked with a few parents on this issue before. Mostly by giving confirmation call upon safe arrival, and a call to the bus company if a student didn’t show on time. It is a serious matter as it is a safeguarding issue.

  13. Regarding Marrisa, Angie, What sort of materials are used during work time? Is the class quiet for the most part? I had a horrific time when I was still not speakng often in kindergarten. There can be a lot of sensory issues at play in a school environment that people often don’t even consider. For me I would not paint. I could not be made to paint. Our school used that horrible low quality stuff they print newspapers on and touching it was torture. I would scuttle off under something or away and could not explain why I couldn’t paint. Felt pens still do me in and I can’t write with a pencil. All very unpleasant against even good quality paper for me. Sounds and lights etc… there are so many possible issues.

    Of course it may not be sensory but I hope her school is looking seriously at what the antecedents are to these situations and considering all possibilities. It is quite hellish to genuinely find something painful and horrible that everyone around you can tolerate and even enjoy and not be able to say as much.

  14. Cameras are so inexpensive these days there’s no excuse for not installing them. Same thing in the classroom. Sorry, but privacy is a lame excuse. It’s unfortunate how recording without permission may be legally troublesome, as the only people I can imagine would want to object would be the ones wanting to hide something. 😉

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