JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — They are some of the most vulnerable students in our schools and on Monday, one parent told Action News Jax that her child is suffering because of a school bus company’s failure to do its job. It is a story that Action News Jax has been covering for months.
Action News Jax been covering complaints about Duval County Public School’s biggest bus company, Student Transportation of America. Now, a parent is saying her student’s civil rights are being violated because the company regularly fails to be on time.
Twelve-year-old Ja’Marcus can’t talk. He needs a feeding tube to eat and has a strict schedule for his medicines. His single mom, Shinika Hunt, relies on the bus to get him to and from school because she works, but this year, she says she can only count on it being late.
“It’s been going on repeatedly,” she said. “Every day, every morning every afternoon … and it’s like, come on, which what are you guys gonna do?”
On the day we interviewed Hunt, Ja’Marcus’ bus got to the school more than an hour after dismissal, which is half an hour after all the nurses leave campus. Hunt had to figure out a way to pick him up from school herself. If the bus is late in the mornings, he has to stay at his medical day care.
This school year, she said Ja’Marcus has missed out on therapies, peer interaction and instruction all because the bus company STA couldn’t get him to school on time.
As a medically fragile child, Shinika said things could be even worse for her son.
“It’s a safety risk and a health risk,” she said. “If they [haven’t gotten] the medications on time.”
Her child is prone to seizures, for example, so when “they’re waiting on the bus, anything can happen.”
It’s not only scary, it’s also illegal. That’s because it’s a violation of his Individualized Education Program, a legal document that details the instruction, support and services Ja’Marcus needs.
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Dr. Angel Wildes is the director of advocacy for the Cornerstone Special Education Alliance, and she has a doctorate in special education. She said IEPs are “all about supporting the child, so they can reach school. This way, they can have a free appropriate public education.”
She said that consistently late buses create a serious problem for special needs students and break the law.
“It’s a violation of their free appropriate public education,” Wildes said. “It’s a violation of Section 504. It’s can be a violation of Title II, and a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”
Action News Jax has been telling you about issues with STA for weeks. The bus company and the school district blame the problems on a shortage of bus drivers, but Wildes said that excuses don’t matter when it comes to delivering on the education of special needs students.
“They are legally obligated to do it no matter what,” she said. ”When they’re not fulfilling the contract, what is the District to do? Well, you have to find another way.”
Action News Jax found out that there are provisions in the district’s contract that allow it to find another provider to do the job. Contractually, STA would have to pay for it, but the district hasn’t done that.
Hunt and Ja’Marcus are both tired of waiting. Hunt is taking her complaints to the Florida Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights.
“I just need someone to take full accountability of the issue, because something has to be done,” Hunt said.
Action News Jax is also waiting. We requested the delay data for Ja’Marcus’ bus nearly a week before the story aired and haven’t gotten it. Our investigation also found this is a problem that could affect every student at Ja’Marcus’ school, since it’s designed to serve special needs children and they each have transportation requirements.
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