Have I told you about Dar’s bus incidents? Like the time he got suspended?

I believe I said something almost in passing. But over this last weekend I was speaking with a fellow parent of an autistic child, and she was flabbergasted. She said that what happened to Dar could never possibly happen in Oakland (where her kid goes to school) without a major lawsuit. So I thought it might be worth it for me to dedicate an entire blog post to it, in case the subject should arise again. I’d have an easy way to get back to this particular effluvia.

First, context. Dar only started taking the bus beginning in September. Even more context: when Dar started there, more than four years ago, the BUSD suggested putting Dar in one of its schools outside our actual zone, because it supposedly was best for him. So we’ve always been eligible for bus service, but we never bothered to use it until this school year. Why the change? Partly, his brother, who kept asking me if he could take the bus. Partly, me; I got tired of driving to, and then standing at, the school waiting for ten minutes for his aide to arrive. (Yes, the person is supposed to be on time, but the BUSD insists on hiring third-party contractors to work with Dar, and years of experience has taught me that twenty-somethings in new part-time jobs are…not always reliable.) Partly, we thought Dar would like the bus.

And he often does. But he also tantrums.

A few months ago, the first time that I heard that Dar hit a kid on the bus, I was very concerned. I reminded his brother that the only reason he was being allowed to ride the bus was for him to keep an eye on Dar. I asked the driver about sitting Dar buckled and apart from other kids. Oddly, he didn’t seem all that worried.

Weeks later, there was another incident, and Dar was suspended. My first thought was: how cute! They still suspend kids; feels so John Hughes. My second thought: wait, me or my wife have to be home all day with him? One of us (me) had to upend the next day’s schedule. My third thought: why would you suspend Dar? It teaches him absolutely nothing. You could cancel his birthday party and he wouldn’t notice.

I didn’t bring this concern to the BUSD. Maybe I was picking my battles?

Weeks later, we were given a “first warning” that Dar had been hitting the bus window with his hand. Weeks after that, another Conduct Report, amounting to a second warning of the same thing. A third warning would equal another suspension. I asked the driver, can you please buckle him to an aisle seat, not a window? He said, sure. The next day, I asked him how it went. He had forgotten about it. The next day, I asked again. He remembered, but said he realized his bus’s seats only have belt buckles on the window seats, not the aisle seats.

Realized?

I started to put two and two together. All of these “incidents” had been on the afternoon bus. Is Dar generally better behaved in the morning? Ha! If nine years of data gathering has taught us anything, it’s that you never know when or why Dar will melt down.

The morning bus is an actual handicapped-oriented bus…literally “the short bus.” The afternoon bus is full-sized, as large as any metro bus. I grilled Dar’s brother. In the morning, they ride with other special-needs kids. In the afternoon, they get on with a bunch of neuro-typical kids who are taken to a different BUSD school. (Some kind of after-school care thing.) Then and only then are my kids brought home, usually to me. They’re always on an empty bus. Dar’s shoes have always been removed and stored near the driver. This is because he has a history of throwing shoes.

I wonder if the afternoon arrangement is ideal for Dar, or if it even complies with our IEP. If he was brought home on the same bus that ferries him in the morning, then they could buckle him onto an aisle seat and then he couldn’t/wouldn’t hit the window.

I understand the worry about his shoes and about hitting other kids…but somehow, this has never been a problem with the morning bus. I wonder if there’s some way to improve the situation here that either we, or the BUSD, has failed to consider. Maybe my kids could be brought home first? Maybe Dar could be put in a different part of the larger bus? Maybe someone else could be driving the bus? As it turns out, the other day, the driver told me that he’s been subbing all this time, and that the BUSD has hired someone permanent, and that he won’t be Dar’s driver much longer.

You know, I don’t envy the bus driver job. On what must be a part-time salary, they have to keep screaming kids safe out on the hazardous roads. Also, because of pedestrian entitlement, Berkeley is a nightmare to drive around. I do often thank my drivers for keeping my kids safe.

But…maybe there’s room for improvement when it comes to Dar’s afternoon person. So…if and when I meet the new person, I plan to be all smiles. I’ll politely tell him or her that Dar has a bit of a history and that I’d be happy to do what I can to help.

I wonder if anyone is reading this thinking, but wait, isn’t Dar leaving the BUSD soon? Yeah…maybe not. The BUSD is trying, but lo and behold, surprise surprise, none of the adjacent school districts want to take on one more problematic nine-year-old. And the non-public schools have waiting lists so…we’ll see. That means we must plan as though it could be a while.

Perhaps it was Ken Kesey who said that you’re either on the bus or off the bus. Kesey had it easy. I’m not sure if Dar is on or off.

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