Families of special ed students feel bus strike’s impact

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — 12-year-old Jeremy Young has cerebral palsy. He needs a specially-equipped bus to get to school every day.

“On a normal day the wheelchair-accessible school bus will pull up here, and will bring him down, put him onto the lift and he’ll go onto the bus,” said Jeremy’s dad Randy Lutz.

Since the Providence school bus drivers’ strike began, options are few for Jeremy and his parents. The family doesn’t have a car, and the city bus ride and walk to Nathaniel Greene Middle School would take an hour.

“You’ve got a three-year-old in one hand and a wheelchair in the other, it makes for a very difficult juggling scenario,” said Lutz.

A wheelchair-accessible taxi has gotten Jeremy to school twice, but he’s already missed two days.

“It’s disheartening that there doesn’t seem to be any sort of plan b,” said Lutz.

Lutz’s message for the city? “You’re really dropping the ball on that.”

Mayor Jorge Elorza says Providence is in a tough position when it comes to special ed students.

“We have to provide transportation for all special needs students with transportation on their IEP, or not at all,” said Elorza.

In a letter Tuesday, the Rhode Island ACLU claims by doing nothing, the city is already violating federal law. ACLU head Steven Brown argues the solution could take several forms.

“It could be providing funding, it could be providing specific services to individuals who need bus services. It’s a combination of things that we think the school district could be looking at,” said Brown.

Under that pressure, the city is now working to find a short-term solution with the union, where its drivers would bus only special ed students.

“Any movement at this point is encouraging, any talks at this point are encouraging,” said Lutz.

At last check those talks are still ongoing. One complicating factor? Those union workers won’t drive First Student buses, so the city has to find 55 buses to accommodate students with special needs.

Meanwhile, school officials announced Tuesday night total absences for all students will be considered excused through Friday of this week.

© WLNE-TV / ABC6 2018