As Monica Klimas advocates for reliable school transportation, we brainstorm ways to help a busload of motivated, special-needs kids endure their frustrating weekday commute.
Any working parent knows: getting a school-aged kid up & dressed & ready for class while you’re running out the door, yourself, is often a feat of timing and finesse. You need to be able to depend on constants like strong coffee in your mug, weather reports on the hour, and your child’s bus showing up when it’s supposed to.
That last one is way important, and unfortunately for local optician and friend of this blog Monica Klimas, the Philadelphia School District has been letting her kid’s bus down. Practically every day, since the beginning of the school year.
If you know Monica — no one tries harder to do a good job, than this chick. So when she determined to fight for fair transportation that special needs students like her son Daniel require, we weren’t surprised she wound up front page news.
Thanks to Monica’s meticulous log and relentless email campaigns, the Daily News featured her struggles last week, and essentially called out the District for shoddy service.
“I am floored,” concluded Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky, who provided the District’s new Hotline for transportation issues 215-400-4350, as well as a link to the Education Law Center for further advocacy.
Fox 29 soon followed with their own exposé, sending cameras to wait with Monica and Daniel on live TV last week (the bus was 12 minute late that day, which was about ten minutes earlier than usual, btw).
Fox 29 also filmed as she confronted School District transportation director Marvin Lee (07:00), who actually rode the bus that morning (!) to personally investigate the issue. Lee acknowledged “lateness is not an option,” and promised to work towards improving service — which does sound pretty bad as Monica describes.
For instance, she and Daniel routinely wait more than 20 minutes for his bus to show up — once, it’s been almost an entire hour late and a few times, it just didn’t show up at all (which dings the family’s weekly budget $30 for cab fare).
In addition to unreliability, Monica has safety concerns as well. Her son needs help with his seat belt, and on more than one occasion has not been buckled in as required. Of course she watches to make sure he’s taken care of before the bus leaves every day, but after school she depends on bus aids doing their jobs to keep her son safe.
Often the afternoon bus ride is as much of a nightmare as the morning’s. Parents we talked with blamed “double loading” — the School District practice of covering more than one school per bus, which means longer routes and twice as many different stops for the students.
And delays! For instance, a typical 20-minute ride from Bridesburg to Daniel’s special skills program in Northern Liberties has taken more than 2 hours.
For Daniel, who has Down Syndrome, facing this unreliable and often interminable daily commute brings an overwhelming amount of stress. He’s cried to Monica, “Mom, please don’t make me ride the bus,” while assuring her he loves his school and teachers.
All these kids do — which, for Monica, is too heart-breaking to endure sitting down. So she waits with her log book for the school bus every day, and faithfully reports each pick-up and drop-off until the School District makes getting these Special Needs kids to school on time a priority.
Meanwhile, our hands feel tied: What Can We Do to Help?
We can’t make the School District buses more efficient or punctual, but East Falls’ proactive community wants to know: Can we sweeten the ride for the kids somehow?
When Monica told us Daniel broke his tablet last month, right away we thought, great, let’s hook him up. But what about the other kids? Thirteen other 6th to 8th graders endure the same lengthy, labyrinthine commute.
With Monica & Daniel’s help, we’ve put together a “Wish List” of items that would go a long way towards happier travels for Daniel and the 13 other students on this route: games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Minions… race car ones would probably be especially fun on a moving bus.
Music for road trips, too! Comfort headphones are better than ear buds, which not all kids can wear. iTune cards could help everyone load up on their favorite tunes — FYI, Daniel’s a big fan of Johnny Cash and R5.
We’re also brainstorming ways to maybe equip buses on “problem routes” like Daniel’s with GPS so the parents can at least know when to expect their child’s ride, and where they are, exactly, when the bus is en route home after school.
Wish List gifts will ship directly to East Falls Eye Associates on Ridge and Indian Queen Lane. You can also drop off donations, like gift cards or even gently-used books, video games, or other travel items we can distribute to the children on Daniel’s bus route, and perhaps even other school kids enduring similar commutes.
While the School District works on better transportation, let’s try shining a little love from East Falls on the situation…. Certainly couldn’t hurt! Thanks for your interest and support.