The beginning weeks of school can be confusing. Sometimes there are bugs to be ironed out, such as knowing what bus to get on to get home or not being registered for a bus at all.
Margaret Gauthier, the grandmother and guardian of two elementary school children, understands that, but it’s now going on to the third week of school and the bus that picks up her special needs grandson has been consistently late, sometimes by as much as 45 minutes. The bus has also been equally late in bringing Joseph home.
This may sound like a small glitch in a system with 63 buses transporting more than 4,800 kids daily. About 20 kids face the same dilemma as Joseph.
Anthony Ferrucci, school finance director, fielded questions about Gauthier’s situation. He knows there’s a problem, but it’s not a priority. On Friday, he said when it comes to the start of school and busing, the top priorities are to ensure students are registered (about 150 weren’t) and to deal with “lost kids.” The lost students are ones who board the wrong bus for a ride home.
Ferrucci projected it takes about two weeks to sort out those issues and get students into a routine. Next, he said, the department will address tardy runs.
That’s not a good explanation for Gauthier, who says school administrators have had all summer to get this right. It’s her opinion that money is the real reason and that the department is reluctant to contract First Student to add a bus.
Money is also of concern to her. Rather than risk the wait for her grandson’s bus, she has been driving both Joseph and his sister Sadie to school. Because he has an IEP, or individual education program, he goes to Norwood while Sadie attends Holliman. Both schools start at the same time, meaning one of them is going to be late.
Playing bus grand mom has thrown off her routine and she is losing an average of three hours of pay weekly. She fears her perpetual tardiness could lead to her dismissal as the office manager of a retail flooring company.
She’s to report for work at 9 a.m., but since school started the earliest she’s arrived is 9:20 and it’s been as late as 10.
“I’m going to lose a job over this,” she said.
Gauthier is not one to let fate take its course. She’s called members of the School Committee and City Council, the mayor, the governor, the Rhode Island Department of Education and the RI Parent Information Network. She’s also filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union and contacted the news media.
While she said people are sympathetic to her problem, it hasn’t helped.
“No matter who I talk to, it doesn’t get done,” she said.
Gauthier was granted custody of her two grandchildren five years ago. At the time, Joseph was nonverbal and his means of communicating was to scratch and bite. Gauthier is in awe of the progress he’s made in Warwick schools. He’s talking, he’s gotten his emotions under control and he’s keeping up with this schoolwork, although as a third grader he’s considered two years behind in reading. He’s on medication. Gauthier fears if he starts slipping he could fall behind his class and that would be a serious setback.
Her concern extends to the end of the school day, when he and seven other special needs students can be waiting in a school hall for up to 45 minutes for the bus home. As for the start of the day, arriving late at school means missing free breakfast that he is eligible to receive.
Gauthier questions if accommodations could be made to open Norwood School earlier so she and other guardians or parents faced with late bus pickups could drop their kids off.
Gauthier reported the bus was late again Monday. And she was late to work again, too.
Ferrucci explained Monday that the special needs bus that picks up Joseph has earlier morning runs for high school and then middle school special needs students.
As it takes time to load and offload these students. Five-minute delays for secondary students can compound to 10-minute delays for elementary students. Usually, he said, delays straighten themselves out as students settle into a routine.
As that doesn’t seem to be happening with this bus, as well as some others, Ferrucci said the department is addressing the issue and that Gauthier could receive a response this week.