Click here for the latest news on the NYC bus strike, now in its fourth week. It sounds like roughly 60-70% of special ed families are finding a way to get to school on a regular basis. As one of them I can attest that it’s not easy, though nothing compared to what this guy is going through to get there, or how this family is dealing without school at all.
Curious – has anyone received reimbursement from the city yet? If so, what was the turn around time once you submitted all of the necessary paperwork? Feel free to email me or post info into the comments section.
In honor of “Oh-my-God-middle-school-applications-are-due Week” I am finally taking my head out of the sand and devoting my Top Ten to finding the right school. If you’re like me, you might find yourself surprisingly, woefully underprepared for your first special needs school search, especially if you are considering mainstreaming and attend tours that mainly consist of parents of typical children. The tour guide, whether it be a parent coordinator or the vice principal, is not going to offer up a special needs version of the tour most of the time, but will instead cater to the general audience and tell you how competitive their school is academically and how amazing their extracurricular activities are. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s good to know those things, but depending on your child’s disability, academic competition and after school clubs might not be at the top of your list.
So what should be on your list then? you might be thinking. Well, obviously priorities are different for each parent depending on their child’s disability, unique needs, strengths and personality, but here is what I consider to be the general Top Ten Things To Consider When Selecting A School For Your Special Needs Child:
1. Availability: When you telephone the school for an appointment do you reach a real person or an automated message? If a real person, are they helpful and polite? Is your call returned promptly if not taken right away? Or, did you email? Was your email forwarded to the appropriate person? How long did it take to receive a reply?
2. Appearance: What is the general appearance of the school? Does it look well cared for? Is it clean? What about the reception area for you to wait in (is there one?)? Is there a security guard or other security in place at the entrance? Does someone greet you when you arrive?
3. Administration: Do you have the chance to meet with the Principal or Vice-Principal during your visit? If not, do you have a way to contact them with questions? Are you invited to set up a meeting with them at another time?
4. Food: Where do the students eat – in a classroom or lunchroom? Does the school cater to special dietary requirements? How are food allergies handled? If mainstreaming, do special ed students eat with the general population?
5. Medical: Is there a school nurse on-site full time? If not, how are medications handled? Spills on the playground? Sick children?
6. Behavior Issues: What strategies does the school use to manage challenging behavior? How do they monitor if it is working? What is the school’s policy on bullying?
7. Specials and Specialists: What therapists visit the school and how often? Does the school have regular access to Speech, OT, PT, a guidance counselor and a pyschologist? Does the school offer Adaptive PE? If your child has speech and language difficulties ask what method will the school use for communication. Do they have access to assistive technology? Are there any extracurricular activities that are open to special needs students? Are there electives during the day that are appropriate for special needs students?
8. Things to note during the actual tour of the school: Is there a gym? Is there an auditorium? A music room? An art room? An outdoor playspace? A separate room for Speech, OT, PT and the guidance counselor? Take a look at the students in the classroom. Are they engaged in a meaningful activity? Are they just sitting around? Are there pictures on the wall, students’ work, etc?
9. Paraprofessionals: If your child is going to a public school and will need a para ask what training is given to the paraprofessional. Will your child get the same para every day? Will the para be with your child at lunchtime and recess?
10. Guidance (or lack thereof): Talk to the school guidance counselor and find out how many other students have IEPs. Do any of the students have 1:1 paraprofessionals? Do any of the students participate in Alternative Assessment? What classroom settings are available (Gifted, Gen ED, ICT, 12:1:1, etc)? Are all classroom configurations offered to students with IEPs? What opportunities do special education students in contained classroom settings have to mingle with the rest of the school population? Does the school require that your child’s IEP have a specific classification in order to be eligible for admission? If a private school, is it on the NYC Approved List (makes funding tuition easier)? What is the admission process, and what evaluations and reports are needed? How recent should they be?
If you get a chance try to come back at different times of the day, particularly in the morning, during lunch and toward the end of the day. Does the principal greet the children as they arrive? Do the buses arrive on time and deliver the children safely?
There’s a lot to consider, and I’m sure you can come up with a few more things relevant to your situation that I didn’t even mention. And by your 11th school (yep, 11 and still going) you might not feel any less stressed or lost but you will at least have these questions memorized (always keep your eye on the silver lining).
Stay tuned as I answer my hypothetical Top Ten list with real answers from real schools this week!
The wheels on the bus go round and round and round and round…. or sometimes not at all if you are taking a bus in NYC. Often times the right school for your child is not walking distance, and in some cases an hour commute twice a day isn’t going to work out for one reason or another. When you are in the city, and when your child has special needs, they probably aren’t going to walk or bike or subway back and forth on their own.
I have been very fortunate so far and have not had to put James on a bus. When I lived in Ohio I drove him back and forth each way on my way to school, and in VA when I worked much longer hours I had a lot of help from Ryan getting James to and from school. In NYC we have been fortunate enough to live 7 blocks or less from James’s school, so it has been an easy decision to spend a little extra time walking with James and getting some exercise, too. Except on the days when I have 1, 2 or 3 whiny kids and a stroller full of groceries. And it’s raining.
We are currently considering moving north by 30+ more blocks. Not walking distance anymore. Totally doable by subway, but much less convenient for Ryan and I. Ryan would have a much longer commute so stopping to drop off James would add even more time to it. I don’t anticipate dragging two toddlers downtown on the subway once or twice a day to get James would be pleasant either, though I haven’t ruled it out. That leaves me to struggle with the bus issue.
I admit it. I have a “bus issue.” Not without reason, though I may sound like a hypochondriac to some people, including my own family. The pros to having James take the bus are obvious: less effort and time on our part in getting James where he needs to go. The cons I am sure of: a much longer trip to and from school for James, resulting in a longer day away from home. Then there are the potential cons: falling up or down bus steps and injuring himself or others, getting bullied on the bus, not getting off at the right stop one way or the other, having an accident on the bus because the trip is too long and nobody made him go to the bathroom before leaving school, less face to face time with teachers because we don’t do drop off or pick up anymore, a more tired child arriving at home to start homework, resulting in more tantrums and more stress at home.
The potential cons, as with many issues, are what really scare me. Many of the potential cons need only to happen once in order for something really bad to have happened, and with a special needs child the likelihood of them happening more than once is much greater. Also, other people’s stories. I have heard so many stories, mostly of the horror variety, about special needs children and buses I cannot even count them. As my husband likes to point out, most people don’t walk around talking about the nice bus ride their child took to school that day, so I am asking you to. Please share with me your stories and opinions, good or bad, regarding NYC school buses. I am especially interested in hearing from people who have had direct experience in putting their special needs child on a bus for special needs students in Manhattan, but welcome any related stories and comments.
I would love to be able to make a rational, educated decision about the bus. So please, share your bus stories in the comments section. Every bit of information is helpful, and I plan to post my findings as I look further into the “bus issue.”
To bus or not to bus?