The ACLU of Rhode Island, R.I. Legal Services, and the R.I. Disability Law Center issued the following statement in response to the Providence School District’s reply to the organizations’ October 1 letter calling on the District to make alternative transportation arrangements available to special education students for the duration of the school bus strike:
“Our organizations are disappointed by, and concerned about, the school district’s inadequate response to our request for action to address the transportation problems facing special education students during this school bus strike.
“We appreciate the fact that the district has agreed that any absences from school will be considered excused, and that special education students will, as required by law, be given compensatory services as needed once the strike is over. But these steps remain insufficient.
“First and foremost, we disagree with the school district’s position that if it cannot provide transportation to all special education students, it must provide it to none. The lack of a universal solution cannot be used as an excuse for not reaching out and helping families explore individual options based on their circumstances.
“In fact, the school district’s current position belies this purported concern about equity, because by offering reimbursement only and refusing to prepay transportation costs for those families that are able to secure alternative transportation, it is already discriminating against poor families who cannot front such expenses while those with financial means can continue to get their children to school. The District has failed to provide any reason or justification why these costs could not be paid up front. Indeed, this inequity is further exacerbated by the potentially long wait for reimbursement, which will occur only after the strike is over. The result is that many special education students, and poor families in particular, are left without any meaningful options at their disposal.
“The district’s position also fails to take into account the core message of our letter, which is that a combination of approaches must be used to accommodate families’ varying needs, and that the District must take a more active role in finding alternative transportation for families that are unable to find it themselves.
“With the duration of this strike completely up in the air, we are considering various options for addressing this unfortunate and unacceptable state of affairs.”