Bridgeport officially bends its special education busing policy
BRIDGEPORT — A school district policy that bars transportation of special needs students to and from babysitters or relatives has apparently been bent for years.
Then the district hired a new executive director of specialized instruction this fall who began playing by the rules.
On Thursday, the school board voted 6-0 to suspend the policy.
At least temporarily, under certain circumstances and with a signed waiver by a parent or guardian, special needs students can be picked up and dropped off somewhere other than their home.
The change is expected to go into effect on Monday.
“Why hurt people we were elected to protect?” asked Board Member Chris Taylor. “I congratulate the person who has been accommodating these parents. Whoever did it, I support 100 percent.”
Acting Schools Superintendent Michael Testani said he’s heard from as many as 50 parents since letters went out over the summer telling them their children would be picked up and dropped off at their home addresses.
“I am not asking you to change policy, but we do have some hardship cases,” Testani told the board. They include families who leave early in the morning for work and who can not leave severely disabled children alone waiting an hour or more for their pick up.
One particularly persistent caller was a grandmother who said her grandson started kindergarten this year at Black Rock School. She said her daughter initially thought the letter she received was in error. Since he began preschool, the child had been transported to and from his provider in Bridgeport.
“Unless this is changed, it will negatively impact my grandson with special needs,” said the grandmother, who appealed to Testani, Special Education Director John Oddo and members of the school board.
Taylor said he has heard from a number of parents. Board members Hernan Illingworth and Maria Pereira said they each have heard from at least one.
”I am in favor of looking at (the) whole policy,” said Illingworth. “As a parent, I understand completely. Sometimes our parents need to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. Some go to work very very early.”
Pereira said she was in favor of making exceptions as long as there are perimeters and the board works to permanently adjust its policy.
For now, exceptions will be made for special needs students who get door to door service. The alternative location has to be in the city, not add to school transportation costs and be consistent.
“We can’t pick up in one place and drop off in another,” Testani said.
There will be an application and parents must sign a liability waiver.
Board Chairman John Weldon also asked that the request be limited to once a year.
“It can’t change week to week,” he said.
He also wants parents to know the arrangement is subject to change based on permanent changes to policy.
School Board Member LaMar Kennedy, who is a special education teacher in Waterbury, pointed out that during Planning and Placement Meetings held annually for special needs students, transportation accommodations are often written into students Individual Education Plan.
That is how many other school districts handle it, including Shelton Public Schools.
“Depending on the IEP parameters, we do pick-up/drop-off according to parent request,” Shelton schools Superintendent Chris Clouet said.
Shelton’s policy allows for accommodations to be made for special education pupils on an individual basis.