Special Needs Students' Families Spend Weeks Adjusting To Alternate School Commutes
Over the past three weeks of the city school bus strike, two Manhattan mothers have been among the thousands of parents of students with special needs who have grappled with the complicated problem of finding new ways to get their children to school. Borough reporter Jon Weinstein filed the following report.
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Every afternoon during the week, Robin Spindel and Franca Gioia embark on an odyssey from their Upper East Side homes. It is a long and complicated journey by bus, subway and tram.
Since the school bus strike began, they have been finding all kinds of ways to pick up their two sons, seventh grader Jordan Spindel and sixth grader Marco Gioia, who attend The Child School on Roosevelt Island, which serves students with special needs.
"Sometimes we're taking the tram, sometimes we're taking the train. It's been a nightmare," Spindel said.
"The change in routine bothers them, the extra traveling," Gioia said.
Though they often alternate pickups and dropoffs, the process is time-consuming and an especially big problem for Spindel, who is looking for work.
"I'm back and forth, picking up kids and dropping off kids and taking time out of my day there," Spindel said. "I even had to cancel an interview because it was my day for pickup and no one else could substitute to get the kids."
Eleven-year-old Marco and 12-year-old Jordan take the tram alone sometimes after school, but their mothers pick them up on the Manhattan side because they worry about the boys crossing busy avenues alone.
The yellow school bus commute was much simpler.
"You get on the bus and then the bus driver drives you to school," Marco said.
"I really miss it because it doesn't take that long to like get from my house to the school," Jordan said.
Sal Ferrera, the executive director at The Child School, said attendance is down and some of the students cannot make it to class at all.
"We have about 80-percent attendance, where we normally have 90-plus," said Ferrera.
With negotiations seemingly going nowhere, Franca Gioia wants parents to organize.
"There's no end in sight, and I've been trying to rally parents to get out there and make phone calls and make a lot of noise," she said.
In all, between the morning commute and the afternoon commute from the Upper East Side to Roosevelt Island and back, the two mothers said they spend up to three hours just taking their sons to school. But they said they have no choice.