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Report: Special ed bus service remains poor

In May, after seven years of court supervision, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman agreed to begin returning to D.C. responsibility for busing its most vulnerable and fragile students to school. His transportation monitor, David Gilmore, reported that DCPS and OSSE were providing "safe, timely and appropriate transportation services." If all went well during the August openings, the District could exit the Petties case--the 1995 class action brought by parents of special needs children because the city couldn't reliably get them to school--as soon as Oct. 1

But an account from the Children's Law Center (CLC) says serious problems remain in the system, which spends about $80 million a year carrying 4,000 special needs students across the region.

Judith Sandalow, the center's executive director, told Gilmore in a letter Tuesday that the transportation issue "has not improved over the past year and has, in fact, worsened significantly since the District of Columbia resumed control." Since the start of the school year, she said, there have been "multiple instances of the DCPS bus transportation service not only failing to get our clients' children to school on time, or to school at all, but endangering the health and safety of the most vulnerable of students."

Among the situations Sandalow describes:

--A 7-year-old boy with autism who lives not far from his school, St. Coletta's Public Charter, but who has endured three-hour bus rides, wetting his pants several times because of the long trips.

--A 4-year-old "medically fragile child who is unable to verbally communicate or walk," who is continually dropped at home after 5 p.m., following a two-hour ride with no air-conditioning. She comes home "overheated, clothes soaked in sweat and visibly exhausted, due to the lengthy ride," Sandalow wrote. "On one occasion the bus attendant forgot the child's bag containing her feeding tube and medications on the bus, delaying the child's medication and nutrition schedule."

--A 15-year-old boy with "severe mental health needs" was set to start at a non-public special ed school in Maryland, but the bus did not show up for almost two full weeks. The parent contacted the Parent Call Center and filed two separate reports, but DCPS did not update its database with the new school placement information until an attorney got involved. The bus is now coming, but routinely arrives late for morning pick up and drops the boy off two-to-three hours after dismissal. The late drop-offs mean that he misses therapy and medical appointments.

"We are certain the above examples are just the tip of the iceberg," Sandalow wrote.

I've contacted Gilmore and Richard Nyankori, DCPS deputy chancellor for special education, for comment.

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By Bill Turque  | September 22, 2010; 8:15 AM ET
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