When Serena Vidal drops her son, Levi, off at school, the trip takes about 40 minutes. But, on Wednesday, the bus took five hours to travel the mere 14 miles from midtown Brooklyn to Levi’s neighborhood. Five hours — without stopping for food or bathroom breaks — is a long time for any three year old to sit on a school bus, but, for Levi, the ride was far more than uncomfortable.
Levi is autistic. When he finally arrived at home, he was “delirious, starving and in his full diaper,” Vidal reported to the New York Daily News. Levi’s father, David Vidal, was furious: “We rushed him to the bath to clean him up.”
This isn’t the first time parents of special needs children have had trouble with school transportation. The Huffington Post reports that “this incident comes in the wake of similar problems with student transportation.” Last month, the Simi Valley School District in Simi Valley, California investigated and fired a bus driver after a special education student was left alone on a bus for over four hours. In May, a 4-year-old girl from Mansfield, Ohio was locked inside a school bus for almost six hours. Kizzy Emerson‘s father put her on the bus at 7:45 AM, according to the Huffington Post, and became worried when she didn’t return home on the afternoon bus. Emerson’s father called the school, who reportedly stated, “Well, we have her down as absent.” After searching the school, Kizzy was found locked in the bus, which was parked inside the garage. She was “sweating, upset, and having to go to the bathroom.” The driver had returned the bus to the garage in the morning for repairs and had failed to check that all students had gotten off at the school.
For special needs children, events like the ones stated above are all the more traumatizing.
Consolidated Bus Transit, the company responsible for Levi Vidal, is also responsible for transporting Sofia Shapiro’s autistic son, Efraim, to and from his pre-kindergarten class at the Central Park Learning Center. Shapiro makes the trip in 20 minutes, reports the New York Daily. The bus took nearly three hours to deliver Efraim to his home where he arrived wet and shivering, having urinated on himself twice during the trip. Shapiro told the New York Daily that she called “dozens of times each day, but no one picked up.”
After so many problems with the transit company, parents are launching complaints and expecting results. Unfortunately, there has been little improvement since the school year began. Peter Silverberg, spokesman for Consolidated, admitted to the New York Daily, “(We) encountered a number of routing issues in the start of the school year.”
But this isn’t the first time parents have had problems with Consolidated. There have been so many issues, in fact, that there is now a group whose goal is specifically to improve the transportation situation for their children. According to parents like Sara Catalinotto, “Every time, at the beginning of the school year, we have these problems,” said Catalinotto, who heads the group called Parents to Improve School Transportation. “They cut the routes and then they wait to see who complains.” The New York Daily reports that advocates have “received dozens of calls from parents all over the city whose kids are enduring rides in excess of 90 minutes.”
Vidal met Levi at the bus stop at 5:30 PM on Friday, over three hours after the end of the school day. Not only was Levi in tears, but the bus matron had given Levi’s special backpack to another child, further aggravating the situation. “What’s wrong with these people?” his angry mom asked the New York Daily. “They have no empathy.”