With a specific focus on serving the needs of children who require special education, the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) hosted the second part of its annual meeting with yeshivah coordinators on Wednesday morning at Yeshivah Toras Emes in Flatbush.
The meeting brought together the many parties that are involved in providing busing, including many OPT and Committee on Special Education staff members, busing vendors, and account managers for yeshivos. Rabbi Moshe Ausfresser, chief account manager, led what was the ninth such meeting.
Harav Yaakov Bender, Rosh Yeshivas Darchei Torah of Far Rockaway, which accepts an exceptionally high number of special needs students from throughout the city, addressed the gathering on behalf of the city’s mosdos. He used the example of Chushim, who was a deaf mute and the only son of Dan, to illustrate the importance of what one individual, even one with a disability, can do.
“Binyamin, whose ten sons has tens of thousands of descendants in each census in the Torah, is mentioned next to Dan, whose whole tribe came from one child, Chushim. I think it is precisely to show this point,” he said. “Every single child we can help can build a nation of people. What we do helps them to reach their potential and everyone here is part and parcel of that.”
Eric Goldstein, CEO of the Office of School Support Services, discussed the advantages and growing challenges of the city’s “customized” approach to transportation for special education students and the importance of dialogue between the many parties involved in its delivery.
“If we come together and discuss things, we can prevent little problems from becoming big ones,” he said. “This goes for the yeshivah community as much as any other, because the issues we face here are as same everywhere else and answers we find here help the whole city.”
Besides the additional sensitivity needed, transportation for special-needs students can require accommodation of medical equipment such as wheelchairs or oxygen and often custom pickup locations and scheduling. All these factors create obvious challenges in coordination of schedules, drivers, and others who help with getting children safely from their homes to school.
“Soon we will all be asking ‘why is this night different from all other nights’; when designing transportation for a special needs child, we ask about every one, ‘what makes this child different from all others, how can we make accommodations that fit them’”, said Alexandra Robinson, the executive director of OPT. “We know that what happens on the bus can make or break a day in school.”
She added that her experience as a teacher of special-needs children early in her career had given her an invaluable understanding of the importance of successfully tailoring transportation to the needs of students with disabilities.
Rabbi Ausfresser related a moving story about the efforts that were made to bring a disabled child to Shacharis on time, despite many impasses.
“Some said why wake him up so early, others said it would be too hard to coordinate, but the boy said that he wants to be like all the other kids in his class, and we all made it happen,” he said.
A meeting held last week for general education transportation needs in the yeshivos was attended by representatives of over 85 mosdos and discussed issues affecting the 15,000 yeshivah students who are bussed daily in the five boroughs.