I am fortunate to work with some very dedicated teachers who are strong advocates for their students. Today one of them, a woman you’d never guess is only in her second year teaching, came to me in anger and distress. Here’s the story.
There’s a girl in her self-contained special education sixth grade class, let’s call her J, who is hard-working, polite, helpful and persistent; in short, a great student to have in one’s class.
J is the oldest of four children in her family. Last week J’s mother lost their apartment, rendering the family homeless.
J moved in with her aunt.
When she still had a home, J lived close enough to walk to school. Not anymore. J’s aunt lives a long bus ride away from the school. Because she is a special education student J qualifies for door-to-door school bus transportation to and from school, but it being June, the city is not about to alter the complex bus routes and schedules to include her.
Our district covers a lot of territory and many students in our school commute on city busses. That’s how J has been coming to school since becoming homeless. While all of the other commuters ride for free with a bus pass, J’s aunt has been paying the daily $4.00 round trip fare.
J’s teacher has been trying to arrange a bus pass for the girl.
She had J’s aunt write a letter telling how J now lives with her and providing her new address. The letter asked that a bus pass be provided.
The woman in charge of giving out bus passes, a kind and friendly school aide, said no.
The letter was not notarized. We need to see a copy of the aunt’s lease. We can’t just issue bus passes, there are rules we have to follow.
J’s teacher pointed out that the woman has a desk drawer full of bus passes and could easily pull one out and sign it.
No. I can’t just give bus passes out because I feel like it. Paperwork needs to be done.
Meanwhile, another day passes, another $4 spent, and J’s teacher is not confident in the aunt’s financial situation. She comes to me to vent and enlist my support.
“I told Mrs. Z that she regularly gives out new bus passes to students who say they lost theirs when we both know they’ve sold it to another student. Why can’t she give one to J?”
“This girl is going through hell but comes to school ready to learn every day and we’re throwing road blocks in her way.”
“Why can’t she just issue the bus pass now to help J stay in school and get the paperwork fixed after that?”
“What is wrong with this system. Why do we say we want students to come to school every day and then make it so hard for this one to get here?
There are 18 days left in the school year. 18 X $4=$72. I start to reach for my wallet to make a contribution.
“I’m not going to let you pay for this. And I’m not going to pay either. That’s what they want us to do, reach into our pockets again and again to solve the system’s problems. Why should we have to do that when this problem is so easy to solve by just signing a bus pass?”