Three organizations that support the rights of students with disabilities have sent a letter to Providence school superintendent Christopher Maher, emphasizing the school district’s legal obligation to provide transportation to special education students during the city-wide school bus strike. The school district has claimed it has been unable to find alternative transportation, but will reimburse parents for the costs they incur in getting their children to school themselves.
However, the letter – signed by Rhode Island Legal Services, the R.I. Disability Law Center, and the ACLU of Rhode Island – calls that response insufficient and in violation of federal laws protecting students with disabilities. Instead, the letter states, the
responsibility to find and arrange for alternative transportation falls first and foremost on the District and not on the parents, many of whom lack the contacts and, in some instances, English language skills to make such arrangements. In addition, even if parents can themselves provide or locate alternative transportation, the costs of fronting payment and then seeking much-delayed reimbursement from the school district are prohibitive for many families of Providence students.
Among the steps the three groups have called on the school district to take in order to fulfill its legal obligations to special education students:
- Offer families of children with special education needs a variety of options to meet their child’s transportation needs, including but not limited to: expedited reimbursement for transportation provided or arranged by the family; up-front payment for transportation arranged by the District or parent through taxi, Uber, RIDE, van or other services; short-term home based services (both instruction and related services); and bus or van services arranged by Providence with other transportation providers.
- Notify all such families by letter of these options.
- Extend indefinitely the three day “grace period” in considering absences excused, since it is “fully unacceptable for the District to punish students for being unable to get to school when it is due to the District’s own failure to provide satisfactory arrangements for their transportation, whether it is three days or thirty.”
- Begin considering mechanisms for providing compensatory education for the school days that special education students miss due to the absence of transportation to get them to school.
The letter was also sent to R.I. Department of Education Commissioner Kenneth Wagner, who was asked “to intervene as necessary to ensure that students’ rights are protected.” The groups are considering next steps if action is not taken expeditiously by the school district to address the concerns raised in the letter.