Trans parent distressed over OKCPS neglect of disabled child

Special needs student missed school for a week because the special bus she needed broke down. File photo.

by Rob Howard
Associate Editor

“She is the kind of student that everybody loves. She loves to be a greeter, she likes to be there and blow a kiss to kids as they arrive,” says the trans parent of her special needs daughter who is an Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) student. Because the special school bus that transports her to and from school each day broke down last week, the girl missed a week of school.

Missing school, for this student, is a very bad thing. Her disability, “Significantly impairs her ability to retain learned behaviors,” says her parent. “There are times she has had [a medical event] and goes backwards developmentally. She used to talk but can’t now. She wants to walk and do her own thing.”

The girl is ten-and-a-half years old, but has the body height and weight of a three-year-old. Developmentally, she is around three or four years old. “The skills she is trying to get are very simple. Working on feeding herself, walking, communicating in one way or another - we have worked with communication devices. They are very basic skills, the kind of skills most kids get in pre-school. It can take years for her to gain skills that other kids get in a few days or week.

“The teachers were very pleased to see that she was learning to walk with her walker,” she said, although the child needs a wheelchair to facilitate transportation.

The parent, who is a disabled veteran, also cares for her aging mother, and her other child, a seven-year-old boy. Understandably, she was very upset when she was notified that the bus had broken down. The Director of Transportation told her it often takes two weeks just to order a part for the bus. When the lack of a bus stretched beyond a couple of days, she started calling and emailing Oklahoma Public Schools administrators, and her school board member.

After emailing her board member, she received a call from Superintendent Aurora Lora’s office saying they were looking into the situation. After that call, there was no further communication with the school district. Every call she made went to voice mail. She was finally, Tuesday morning, able to talk with the Transportation Director, Pat Hughes. That’s when she was told about the time just to order a part.

She turned to The Gayly for help. After a few calls went to voice mail, we were finally able to contact Mark Myers in the district’s information office. Although the call was near the end of the school day, things started happening quickly.

By 5:55 p.m. the parent had been informed that a bus had had its schedule modified, and her daughter would be picked up this morning. She received an email from Erin Trussell, the Director of Special Services for the district that told her the situation had been corrected, and said, “We will be rearranging the bus so that she does not miss school going further.”

Most parents, unless they have a special needs child, don’t understand the system that supports such students. Each student has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that spells out the student’s education goals, and the support that is needed in order to assist the student in achieving those goals. In this child’s case, the special transportation needs are spelled out.

Under the law, school districts must follow the IEP. A former special needs severe and profound teacher told The Gayly, “They should get ready to fix that problem or there will be hell rain down on them. If it’s in the IEP, they must follow it. No option whatsoever.”

In this case, the parent wasn’t having much luck getting help with her daughter’s situation. But the important thing is, she didn’t give up on it. And she has now found a “go-to” person who gets back in touch with her, returns her calls, and takes an interest in her child’s welfare.

If you find yourself in this kind of a situation, keep trying until you find a live human being to talk with. They are out there – most educators care deeply for the children they serve. It’s just more difficult when you have to try to penetrate the bureaucracy of a larger school district.

The response to The Gayly from the information department summed up the resolution succinctly: “Per your request the student will have transportation provided by a bus equipped with [the proper equipment] starting September 28, 2016. The issue has been addressed with transportation and a school bus that is specific to the students' needs has been reassigned from a different bus route with the understanding the service is not to be changed in the future. We apologize for the break in transportation service.”

Copyright 2016 The Gayly – September 28, 2016 @ 4:15 p.m.