Parent of Special Needs Child Says Providence Is Offering No Support During School Bus Strike

Saturday, September 22, 2018

 

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Thursday’s scheduled strike by school bus drivers in Providence by Teamsters Local 251 will wreak havoc for many families.

And, no group of families will be hit harder than the parents of special needs children.

“We're definitely worried, we can't exactly put JJ on a RIPTA bus and say ‘have a good day’ even if we felt comfortable with putting a 12-year-old on the city bus,” Randy Lutz, a Providence parent, told GoLocalProv in an interview.

Lutz's son suffers from Cerebral Palsy -- "a group of chronic conditions affecting body movement and muscle coordination. It is caused by damage to one or more specific areas of the brain, usually occurring during fetal development; before, during, or shortly after birth; or during infancy."

According to the offical statement by the Providence School Department, “We are asking all families of school bus riders to arrange for alternate transportation. Please make sure that you provide your child's school with your updated contact information and the names of adults authorized for school pick-up.”

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza announced on Friday morning that his administration has failed to develop an alternative transportation plan for the children in Providence public schools.

Lutz says the plan by the City of Providence is de facto no plan at all. Moreover, the lack of transportation for children with special needs is illegal by federal law, state statute and the City’s stated policy.

“They tell people that they'll reimburse parents and that is enough, but they don't consider the fact that there are very few handicapped-accessible cabs in Providence,” said Lutz. “And they're generally already all booked in the hours leading up to school, we've called them in the past for rides and they've told us those times are all booked up.”

The strike date was called on Friday by the Teamsters against the city’s bussing company — Student First, which the U.S. division is headquartered in Ohio, but the company is a British-based concern.

The major sticking point of the labor dispute is First Student’s refusal to make payments to the Teamster pension fund.

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Randy Lutz, speaking out about the lack of options

Lack of Options

For parents of special needs children the options are limited and in fact, may not exist.

“So as a matter of fact, I just called the taxi companies in Providence. Corporate Taxi used to have a wheelchair accessible cab, but they gave it up 2 and a half years ago,” said Lutz.

“Economy Cab is now the only taxi service that covers Providence that has wheelchair accessible cabs. There are only three cab companies in the entire state with wheelchair accessible cabs, and they have set areas they cover-and they only have one cab -- which is in the shop this weekend and "might" be back in service Monday morning,” added Lutz, who has spent hours trying to determine alternative transportation.

“And because of the nature of the special education programs in Providence, special education students don't necessarily or even usually go to schools near their house.  Our goes to school at Nathaniel Greene, while we live off Allens Avenue,” said Lutz.

According to Lutz, there are only certain programs available at certain schools, Meeting Street isn't an option for most special needs students in Providence. He says it's frustrating when people say ‘take the bus’  or ‘call an Uber.’  “People don’t understand how limited the options are,” said Lutz.

“Not even just of other parents, but of the school department itself, suggesting that they'll reimburse when again, there's literally only one wheelchair accessible taxi that services the entire city,” he added.

 
 

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