PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Insufficient. That is how several civil rights groups described Providence’s response to the city’s ongoing bus driver strike.
Bus drivers walked off the job last Thursday after failing to reach a contract with First Student. Since then, parents have been forced to find other ways to get their children to school, including parents of special needs students.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Legal Services and the RI Disability Law Center said the school district is in violation of federal law protecting students with disabilities.
The groups said they sent a letter to Providence School Supt. Christopher Maher, detailing the district’s legal obligation to provide transportation to special education students during the strike.
Leading up to the strike, the city and school district said efforts to find alternative transportation failed and the district would reimburse parents of special needs students for costs incurred during the strike.
The ACLU said that response is not good enough.
“The responsibility to find and arrange for alternative transportation falls first and foremost on the District and not on the parents, many of whom lack the contacts and, in some instances, English language skills to make such arrangements,” the groups said in their letter. “In addition, even if parents can themselves provide or locate alternative transportation, the costs of fronting payment and then seeking much-delayed reimbursement from the school district are prohibitive for many families of Providence students.”
The ACLU said Education Commissioner Kenneth Wagner also received a copy of the letter, which urged him to intervene as necessary to “ensure students’ rights are protected.”
While the ACLU did not detail what action it would take, it did say, “the groups are considering next steps if action is not taken expeditiously by the school district to address the concerns raised in the letter.”
The city and school district have an 11:30 a.m. news conference planned to discuss the ongoing strike. Eyewitness News will carry it live and will ask officials about the letter.
Eyewitness News will carry the news conference live on WPRI.com, with continuing coverage on Eyewitness News at Noon on WPRI.com.