I think every parent dreads the day they put their child on a school bus for the first time. Let's face it, you're handing your child off to someone who could have an awful driving record, been up all night partying and who may not really care all that much for their job (and your child). 99% of the time the drivers and matrons are great and the kids enjoy the ride much more than any of the parents ever imagined.
Eliza is a bus professional since she has been riding a school bus since she was three and a half. She and I are no strangers to the foibles and follies of OPT (the Office of Pupil Transportation) and OPT's ineptitude in providing services pursuant to a child's IEP. This year started out, as does every year with missing buses, late buses, changes in buses and most infuriating a bus company that never answered their phone. This is though just the usual crap a parent of a special needs child has to deal with on a regular basis. Really it should not be this hard to get children to school.
But this year was the first year Eliza had to endure school bus bullies to which the matron and driver turned blind eyes. And it infuriated me. Since Eliza receives special education bus services, she is on a bus of 12 children, who range in age from Kindergarten to 5th Grade. Because Eliza's school is small, OPT and the bus company, MV Transport/Reliant seemingly want to save a few bucks and not provide a bus solely for Eliza's school. There is just no money in providing a bus just for two or three kids. This would be all well and good if the bus matron actually did her job and monitored behavior on the bus.
But no, listening to her music on her iPod was more important than making sure there was no verbal bullying and name calling on the bus. After a few weeks of school Eliza started to tell me about the "bad' words the big kids on the bus would use. Things like "dumb" and "stupid." In our house these are bad words. As I talked with Eliza I realized they were calling her dumb and stupid. Then Eliza asked me what "dumb ass" meant. I think at that point my head burst into flames. I spoke to the matron, who is known as Maria the Silent and she just shrugged. Shrugged. Wasn't shocked or apologetic. Just shrugged. I asked her what she was going to do about, and again all I got was the shrug. And it was that shrug that made me the most angry. Because it meant she really, really didn't care about the children.
So I filed my complaint with OPT, MV/Reliant and got a lovely note saying they were going to put a "seating plan" in place to solve this problem. The seating plan would have Maria the Silent sit next to Eliza in the front seat. While there are many obvious problems with this quick fix, like the fact that there is no "cone of silence" in the front seat so that Eliza couldn't hear the verbal taunts, or that Maria the Silent surely wasn't going to hear anything until her ear buds were removed, the main problem with this solution was that the bus seating plan already required that Eliza sit with the matron in the front row. I pointed this out and was advised that OPT and the school which the offending children attended would devise an action plan to discuss verbal bullying. But in order to put this action plan in motion, I needed to supply the names of the offending children. Really? My 6 year old 32 pound kid was supposed to be able to identify, by name, kids who were virtual strangers to her,who were twice her age and three times her size, who did not even attend her school? Really? Because when you are 6 and sitting in the front of the bus you are supposed to know the names of the 4th and 5th graders at the back of the bus who are calling you stupid for believing in Santa? I don't think so. But Eliza is a perceptive kid and knew the names of two of the bullies and could identify the jackets another two wore.
I wrote letters and emails daily for the rest of the week. Finally OPT assigned a new bus for Eliza and her classmate. A bus with only them on it. A bus with a matron and driver who are respectful of the children and who seem to care about their jobs, who call to let me know when they are running late or early, a matron who gets out of the bus and stops traffic so it is safe for Eliza to get on the bus, a driver who greets Eliza and me with a smile everyday. And neither one has an iPod and ear buds. I'm sure OPT is not too happy about paying the extra costs, but too bad for them. While this solution is a good one for Eliza, I highly doubt that the promised anti-bullying speech was ever given to the kids at the other school and I doubt those children and their parents and teachers were ever contacted. And Maria the Silent is still hard at work listening to her iPod and sooner or later some other child will suffer needlessly on her bus.
So if you have to complain about your child's school bus, make sure that OPT gives you a complaint number. They tend to try not to provide this and I suspect it is a ploy to keep down the number of recorded complaints. Remind OPT that being bused to school in a safe environment is required by law and feel free to sight every single applicable federal, state and local law. Get your child's school on board to file its own complaint. If you are filing your complaint via email, send copies of your emails to OPT via certified mail. If your child can provide any identifying information about who is taunting them include that information too.
And don't let them wear you down. OPT pays bus companies tens of millions of dollars a year to provide special education bus services. The population these companies serve is often the most fragile children. Make the companies, drivers and matrons honor the obligation they have to make sure that your child is in a safe environment, both physically and emotionally as they are brought to and from school.