CCDS students with special needs severely affected by bus driver shortage

Wade Vandervort

Octavian Lither, 11, is interviewed at Walter Johnson High School on Wednesday, October 6, 2021.

Octavian Lither often waits at the bus stop each morning to be transported to his college in northwest Las Vegas.

More often than not, the bus is late. A few times it happened after school had already started.

But unlike the thousands of other students in the Clark County School District who rack up delays and absences as the bus driver staff crisis continues, the sixth-grader at Walter Johnson Junior High is autistic and has right to transport as part of their learning plan.

Lenny Lither, the boy’s father, is so frustrated that he has lost confidence that the authorities will solve the driver shortage. “I don’t see that changing,” said Lenny Lither.

Octavian, 11, is one of 14,695 disabled students at CCDS who have a designated bus to and from school because it’s enrolled in his Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. Identified special education students have these personalized plans that outline how they are to receive their education and services such as speech therapy and bus transportation, tailored to their individual needs. IEPs have been supported by the Federal Disability Education Act since 1975.

“I don’t think CCSD really cares about IAPs and how it actually is a legally binding contract,” Lither said. He is ready to file a complaint against the CCSD in the future for violating his son’s plan, and he encourages parents in the same situation to join him.

“If this is not corrected, I will have to file a compliance (complaint) spelled out in language they cannot ignore,” he said.

Robin Kincaid is the director of educational services for Nevada PEP, an education and advocacy group for families with children with disabilities based in Las Vegas. She has heard reports from parents of longer than usual bus trips and after-hours pickups.

When a school district does not closely monitor a student’s IEP, it can mean that the child does not have the same opportunity to access education. And legally, that child’s family can file discrimination claims, she said.

It’s unclear when a parent would have cause for action against the CCDS for violating an IEP’s transportation requirements, as it depends on how a particular child is affected by late buses, Kincaid said. .

Some may miss their therapies at school or away from home. Others might miss meal times or have a health problem exacerbated by being late. Quantitative data helps make the case, Kincaid said.

“We also recognize that children have unique and individualized needs,” she said.

Responding to parents’ concerns that the driver shortage could violate their children’s IEPs, the district said in a statement that “getting students to school is a priority for the CCSD. The Transportation Department seeks innovative solutions to the driver shortage nationwide and has and will continue to improve services and become more efficient throughout the school year. He did not specify.

The district would like to have 1,570 special and “general” education drivers to function properly, but there are around 240 left, a district spokesperson said. The shortage has not changed over the past month.

Specialty drivers are trained to meet the additional needs of children with physical, developmental and intellectual disabilities, and they earn about $ 1 more per hour than other bus drivers. The higher pay, however, doesn’t raise the cap much – unskilled drivers earn between $ 15.67 and $ 19.98 an hour, working as little as 30 hours per week on split shifts.

However, the district said driver shortages in special education were lower than in general education because it prioritized specialized transportation services.

The CCSD recently launched a partnership with the Regional Transportation Commission to allow approximately 4,000 students from 15 high schools to ride the public bus free of charge, eliminating dozens of school bus routes. However, this will not replace the special education bus plans.

Octavian is a high performer and academically advanced, his father said. He takes algebra II, usually a high school course, and attends Johnson for his Mandarin language program because he was born in China.

His father said his son’s autism affects his social skills and he can enter his own world. Curb-to-curb transport, where the bus stops in front of his house and the school’s front door, provides closer surveillance.

Every now and then Octavian arrives 30 minutes late for the first 8:30 am bell, and one morning he arrived around 10:45 am, his father said. Most of the time, he is 10 minutes behind his first period lesson.

But these minutes add up when you consider that there are 180 days of learning. If he’s 10 minutes late each day, that’s about 1,800 minutes, or 30 hours, of lost class time in a school year.

“I want to stress that I don’t blame the bus drivers at all,” Lither said. “It’s a ridiculous situation they have been placed in.”

Lither picks up his son from school, in part out of fear that the bus will take him home at an unreasonable time.

During one of these collections, Lither asked Octavian when he was last on campus with enough time to get to his first class before the bell.

“I think it only happened once,” Octavian replied.

Lither asked for clarification – once this week or once this year? – Once this year, the boy said.

The Lither family aren’t the only ones worried about the bus shortage.

In a family in Las Vegas, the father cycles to work to free the family car in case the mother has to take her special needs child to school when the bus is late.

Kimberley, who asked not to use her last name, said her sophomore suffered from autism, anxiety and attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder. All of these conditions benefit from a regular routine.

That’s why she signed up for the curb-to-curb bus service, her mother said.

But the bus is on time maybe one day a week. He’s been two hours or more late about half a dozen times. Sometimes it doesn’t come at all. Kimberley and her daughter watch the bus on the district’s live tracker app, and if it pulls away from their neighborhood, they get in the car.

The disturbance can send the girl to tears and meltdowns. She is frustrated when the bus is late. When it never happens, she seems to take it personally.

“” Have they forgotten me again? “Kimberley said, her daughter said.

“Why do they keep doing this? “”

Kincaid said parents who drop out and take their children to school on their own doesn’t change the fact that the CCSD has an obligation.

She knows that reversing the driver crisis has no easy solution, but “there really is no pass on this.”

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