I-Team: NYC Dept. of Education Abruptly Pulls Porter Service for Students in Wheelchairs, Then Restores It

The New York City Department of Education is restoring special transportation services to a group of students in wheelchairs after NBC 4 New York's I-Team got involved.

On Monday, parents at PS 811Q in Flushing were notified that their children would no longer receive "porter service" getting in and out of their homes, which are not wheelchair accessible.

The service stopped immediately and some of the students have not been back to school since.

Single mother Evelyn Gonzales said it's impossible for her to get her son Edgar, who has cerebral palsy, up and down the steep set of stairs to his apartment alone, especially with the wheelchair itself weighing 65 pounds. For years, the city had provided porter service at pickup and dropoff, and a man trained to carry Edgar up and down from his apartment to the school bus would help bring him to and from the bus.

But when the service ended this week, his mother said she had no choice but to keep him home.

"Look at him here, he's just here watching TV," she said. "This is what he's doing when he could be in school or in art or the music class."

A few blocks away in Rosedale, another PS 811Q mother, Tanya Vetty, received notice that the porter service was ending just two months after she had a heart attack.

"I definitely can't get him up and down the steps. I have no help, no strength, it's me," she said.

School officials told the parents and the I-Team that the students had been receiving the service in error.

"This was a temporary freebie that shouldn’t have been," said Marilyn Biaggi, Pupil Accounting Secretary at the school.

Biaggi explained that these families were not entitled to the porter service because they live in private homes and could choose to move to buildings with elevators or install ramps. It would only be the city's responsibility to provide porters if a family lives in public housing that's inaccessible, not if they choose inaccessible private housing.

But Gonzalez questioned: "If he wasn't entitled to get it, how was it approved for many years?"

And Vetty said it was unfair for the city to assume the families could simply install ramps or move.

"Not everybody can afford a ramp in their home," she said.

The school sent paperwork about home-schooling options, leaving parents heartbroken.

"I think my son should have the same rights that every other kid has," said Gonzalez.

Then on Friday evening, the Department of Education told the I-Team it was reversing its decision.

"These services should not have been disrupted suddenly in the middle of the school year, and they will be restored," said spokesman Harry Hartfield.

DOE officials called the abrupt service suspension an isolated incident that impacted students only at PS 811Q. They said they treated the matter seriously and the students’ porter services will be restored.

It's not clear if the services will continue after the current school year, but should help parents at least plan ahead.

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