The Providence school bus strike may be over, but the legal actions taken by three civil rights organizations last week to protect the rights of special education students harmed by the strike are not. Instead, the groups are working to ensure that parents of those students receive proper notification of their right to get prompt reimbursement for any transportation costs they incurred in getting their children to school, as well as their children's right to compensatory education for the time they missed classes.

The groups – the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, R.I. Legal Services, and the R.I. Disability Law Center – filed a series of administrative actions last week on behalf of students with special education needs, alleging that the failure of the Providence school district to honor its responsibility under the students’ Individual Education Plans to provide them transportation to and from school violated federal and state laws. The groups also sought legal remedies for special education students outside Providence who were also adversely affected by the strike.

Following the latest pre-hearing conference call today before a Rhode Island Department of Education hearing officer, those issues have largely been favorably addressed. The Providence School District has agreed to post a notice on its website later today and send a letter home tomorrow, in both English and Spanish, to parents of special education children who were entitled to transportation, advising them of their right to seek reimbursement for mileage and specialized transportation costs they incurred during the eleven-day strike. A form will be available for parents to complete and submit for reimbursements.  Depending on when parents submit the completed form, reimbursement could be available as soon as Friday. In addition, the notice advises the parents that outreach will be made to them to arrange for compensatory education for their children for the educational time they missed because of the strike.

The case is not over, however. Among issues left to be addressed are whether parents who were forced to take time off from work to transport their children to school will be reimbursed for their time in transporting their children or lost wages.

With the strike over, the filing organizations want to make sure that parents of students with disabilities know their rights and the remedies available to them to redress the hardships and harms that fell on their children during the eleven-day strike. If the parents or legal guardians of special education students encounter difficulties obtaining reimbursement or compensatory education, they are encouraged to contact:

  • ACLU of RI: (401) 831-7171
  • R.I. Legal Services: (401) 274-2652
  • R.I. Disability Law Center: (401) 831-3150