UPDATED: Elorza Invokes His “Political & Moral Authority”, Groups Threaten Legal Action in Strike
Wednesday, October 03, 2018
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and elected officials called on bus company First Student and the bus drivers, represented by Teamsters Local 251, to bring an end to the bus strike that is now in day four. Now, three groups are threatening legal action against the city for failure to provide services to special needs children.
"We’re calling on both parties -- using both our political and moral authority -- in asking them to think about the kids, families, every single resident in Providence affected by this, so a resolution is reached, as quickly as possible," said Elorza.
On Tuesday, a number of organizations threatened to sue the city for failure to provide transportation to special needs children.
"As a result of the bus strike currently affecting the Providence School District, the District has publicly acknowledged its obligations to provide transportation to students with disabilities pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as required by their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). However, the District has also announced that it has not located alternative transportation and that, instead, parents may seek reimbursement for any alternative transportation they are able to arrange," wrote Veronika Kot of Rhode Island Legal Services; Anne Mulready of the Rhode Island Disability Law Center; and Steven Brown of the ACLU of RI in a joint letter to Providence School Superintendent Christopher Maher.
"We remain concerned that the District’s position and actions fall short of meeting its responsibilities under the IDEA. 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. 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," wrote the groups in the joint letter.
"As our organizations consider individualized remedies for clients who have contacted us for assistance, we additionally request that, in light of the urgency of this matter, you respond to us by Wednesday, October 3rd with details of any plans the District is taking to address the current situation and ensure alternative arrangements are being made to accommodate the legally mandated needs of special education students in Providence," the letter concludes.
"We’re gathered here today as local elected officials -- we’re joining and speaking with one voice, asking both sides in this dispute, asking both First Student and the Teamsters to come together to find a resolution so that our kids can get to and from school safely and conveniently as they always have," said Elorza, of the protracted contract dispute between the Teamsters and First Student over drivers' pensions.
"I want to begin by sharing that all of us understand that the negotiations are between these two parties, and while there may be legitimate issues on both sides we speak on behalf of the children and families here in the City of Providence," said Elorza. "I’ve heard from numerous families and numerous parents of the extreme difficulty and inconvenience that it has been getting their kids to and from school."
Elorza mentioned that there would be discussions Tuesday afternoon with the Teamsters as to addressing bus options for special needs students, which the RI ACLU and other groups called out Tuesday morning for currently being in violation of federal law.
The story was first published 10/2/18 1:10 PM and was updated.
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