Thousands of city students diagnosed with autism get to school each day on mini school buses, and while the city's legally required to provide special needs students with safe, appropriate and relatively quick rides, NY1's Lindsey Christ found out that that doesn't always happen. She filed the following report.
Monday was Jahlexjius Gaston Alford's first day of high school, but his mother, Sabretta Alford, said the Department of Education assigned more students to the bus route than the bus could safely fit.
"The bus driver didn't even bother to pick him up because he didn't have a seat," Alford said. "I wind up taking Jahlexjius on the train, and he was, like, holding his ears."
She said her son has sensory issues, like many children with autism, so loud, crowded environments are painful.
"He was a little bit agitated, 'cause I had to take him during rush hour, on the 7 train," Alford said. "So I was like, 'Oh my God, please don't freak out, sweetie. Please don't freak out.'"
The school bus was not much better. The driver told NY1 that it was overcrowded all week. The bus is supposed to hold 20 at most. Jahlexjius's mother said there were 24 on Monday. On Friday, NY1 found that there were at least 22 students still assigned to it.
"It's trauma, because they're not going to want to get on the bus, and that's what's happening to some parents because of the first experience," Alford said. "One child regurgitated on the bus, and she's refusing to get back on that bus because the conditions were just so crowded. If my son is experiencing overcrowding, and he's uncomfortable, he's going to give me hell to try to get back on that bus the next morning."
All week, the mother, bus driver and school lodged formal complaints. On Friday, the bus was still overcrowded. To make matters worse, the students attend multiple schools and are a range of ages.
"On this route, there are kindergartners, 5-year-olds," Alford said. "If you see, it's predominantly, there's 5-year-olds with 14- and 15-year-old autistic children. That's dangerous, because a lot of the autistic children, they have behavior issues, they have stemming issues. It's not their fault. When they get uncomfortable, they can lash out. God forbid if they lash out at a 5-year-old."
On Friday, NY1 followed the bus in the morning and afternoon, then asked the Department of Education about the situation. An hour later, the mother got a phone call saying that the students on that one bus will be split among three buses, but not until Wednesday.