Editor’s Note: The author has her own blog called Autism Wonderland in which she chronicles life with her autistic son. The original version of her open letter to the mayor first appeared there.
Dear Mayor Bloomberg,
My son, Norrin, is seven years old and he has autism. He attends a special education school in Westchester, 22 miles away from our apartment building in the Bronx.
Many wonder why we would choose to send our only child to a school so far way. It was not an easy decision to make. But not a single public school in the Bronx could meet Norrin’s specific needs. I had to sue the Department of Education to get him placed into a specialized school; his current school was well worth the fight.
Norrin is one of the 152,000 children affected by the New York City school bus strike. As I look to the days ahead, I find myself asking: Do I send my son to school or do I go to work?
This shouldn’t be the kind of question any New York City parent has to ask.
My husband and I are working parents. I am an administrative assistant and my husband is a New York State Supreme Court Officer. We don’t have the kind of jobs that offer a great deal of flexibility. And we depend on the Office of Pupil Transportation and the Local 1181 to get Norrin to and from school safely.
Since the bus strike began, we have struggled to get Norrin to and from school. The first two days of the strike, I took vacations and stayed home with him. On the third day, I went into work. With limited childcare options, I brought Norrin with me.
By the fourth day of the strike, I knew I had to get Norrin back to school. So my husband drove us up to school before he went into work. I spent the day sitting in a storage room at Norrin’s school until the 2:30 pm dismissal. And on the fifth day, I let my husband drive Norrin to school while I stayed home. I commuted via public transportation to pick up Norrin. I was on a train heading downtown by noon. I waited in the bitter cold for almost half an hour at the MetroNorth train station on 125th Street. I took the forty-minute train ride. And when I got off the train, I had to take a cab to Norrin’s school. I was lucky to get a ride back home on both days. I couldn’t imagine having to do that kind of commute with my son.
I know I’m not alone. I know quite a few mothers who simply cannot send their children to school until the strike is over because they don’t have the means to get them there. Another mom has the flexibility to work from home but has to pick two days of the week that will she send her son to school, charging the cab fare on a credit card because they live in the Bronx and her son’s school is in Brooklyn.
There are parents with multiple children at different schools. Routines are being rearranged every day. But the bus strike is beyond being an inconvenience.
It is distressing to special needs children who cannot understand or easily adjust to the change in their routine. It hinders their education and related services. It puts them at risk for regression. I read somewhere that autism moms have a similar stress level to that of combat soldiers. The bus strike intensifies that stress. To feel so powerless, to have such uncertainty about something so critical to our children, it’s the worst feeling any parent can feel.
Every child has the right to a free and appropriate education. Please, Mayor Bloomberg, help them get there.