Parents of Special Needs Children Worry About Strike

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The threat of a school bus strike in New York City has parents, including those who have children with special needs, looking for ways to get their kids to and from school. (Published Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013)

    Parents of special needs children are especially concerned about the bus strike set for Wednesday, and are worried that their kids won't have any way to get to school.

    Seven-year-old Noa Sahl suffered a prenatal stroke and because of this condition, she is blind, uses a wheelchair and communicates through some sign language with people she knows.

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    "Many people think the bus strike is just an inconvenience, but for us, it's more than that," said Noa's mother, Jeni Mahoney-Sahl. "It's not only the time we are off from work because when you have a child who so deeply needs the services she gets at school, this is a huge loss for a kid who has so many challenges to overcome."

    Mahoney-Sahl says her daughter is bused to a school at the Blythedale Children's Hospital in Valhalla, N.Y., because there are no schools that meet her needs in the five boroughs.

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    She rides a handicap-accessible school bus with a driver and bus matron who are able to communicate with her.

    Mahoney-Sahl says when her daughter was born, doctors did not think she would even be able to sit up on her own. But after the therapy she receives at the school from teachers and doctors, she has been able to do that and much more.

    "She obviously cannot go to school on her own," said Ben Sahl, Noa's father. "What it means is that one of us has to take the day off to take her to school, which is an hour to an hour and half away, come back, and then go back again to pick her up by 3 p.m."

    Finding a car service that can accommodate their child and her wheelchair is challenging and one that is willing to make up to four trips a day is even more difficult.  

    The Sahls would much prefer to be able to rent a large enough vehicle and drive her. A spokeswoman for the Department of Education says the city will not reimburse the cost of rental cars, but will pay parents to take car services.

    The Sahls wish children were not caught in the middle of the issue.

     The union and the city have been battling over how new contracts are being drawn up for a set of bus routes. The city wants to cut transportation costs and has put about 1,100 bus contracts with private bus companies up for bid. The union is decrying the lack of Employee Protection Provisions, saying without the so-called EPPs, current drivers could suddenly lose their jobs once their contracts are up in June.

    Marc Santia contributed to this story

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