No D.C. student commutes to school barefoot in the snow and uphill both ways -- but we've seen many children whose trip may be the real-life local counterpart to that worn joke, only much less comic.
This back to school season is a good time to focus on ensuring that all children can safely travel to and from school. Parents do this by considering carpools, scrutinizing bus schedules, and working out whether their children are old enough to walk by themselves. At Children's Law Center, we're doing the same thing.
Many of our young clients are special education students. Often, students who receive special education services need some accommodations getting to and from school. In D.C., transportation for special education students is managed by a division of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). This includes a Parent Call Center, which is supposed to be an information hub where parents can get real-time answers to questions about their children's transportation. Unfortunately, this division has a chronic history of problems, and too often the call center doesn't have answers. Since 1995, the District has been the subject of a class-action lawsuit regarding special education transportation, Petties v. DC.
Last month the District filed a motion to exit the suit. Based on what our clients have experienced in the 2011-2012 school year, Children's Law Center thinks ending Petties would be premature. A few of the situations that have occurred in the last six months include:
This is just a sampling of cases. And historically, there's been even more trouble at the beginning of the school year. OSSE has not yet had a successful transportation launch for the first day of school. Special education students have missed the first days or weeks of school, ridden buses for hours and been delivered to the wrong home at the end of the day. I wish we didn't need the oversight of a class-action lawsuit to ensure children get to and from school in a safe and timely fashion. But we do. Just like parents make sure their youngster shows she can walk to school successfully at least once before letting her go alone, we think OSSE should have one successful beginning of school before we end court supervision.
These students aren't going uphill both ways -- but it's been an uphill battle just to get them to school. So until OSSE can get it right, even just once, from the beginning of the school year, the District should not be excused from the extra scrutiny of Petties.