BETHLEHEM — A small, yellow Bethlehem Central School District bus, for students with special needs, dropped a young boy off at the Center for Disability Services on Albany’s South Manning Boulevard for his after-school program on Oct. 7, at 4:30 p.m.
This may seem normal to the average eye but district resident Lauren Kasper, a mother of three — two of whom have special needs — who works at the CDS building, noticed the same BCSD bus has dropped the boy off every weekday.
And she sensed something was off.
Kasper’s two children with special needs are her 21-year-old son, Ari and 18-year-old daughter, Lexi. Ari has autism and limited conversational skills. He goes to a “day-habilitation” adult services program through another CDS location in Albany — CDS provides his transportation.
Lexi has autism and schizoaffective disorder. Lauren said Lexi is still part of BCSD and it transports her to the Wildwood School’s Young Adult program in Latham where she is expected to stay until she is 21.
Two months ago, Lexi was accepted to the Charles Park After School and After Work Respite and Vacation Program on Charles Boulevard in Guilderland. “The Charles Park program would definitely help her with her social and vocational experiences, learn how to navigate through difficult situations,” Lauren said. But, the BCSD has told her it cannot transport her daughter there because it is outside the school district. That presents a challenge as Lauren won’t always be able to drive her daughter there.
As she keeps seeing a BCSD bus at CDS in Albany every day, she wonders, how is this allowed when district buses are not allowed to transport students to before and after childcare locations outside the district?
Lauren said she reached out to BCSD superintendent Jody Monroe, the Board of Education and Special Education and Students Services director Kathleen Johnston. She asked in October where she could find a written policy dictating bus transport for students with special needs, and for students in need of transportation to before and after childcare locations outside the district.
Lauren showed Spotlight News an exchange of emails with the district, including where Monroe provided a link to a written policy on the district’s website for her called “Policy 8413.2: Transportation to Childcare Locations for Grades K-8”. It states that the district “shall provide transportation to students in grades K-8 between before/after childcare locations and school, but only for children attending public or nonpublic schools located within the school district boundaries.” The full written policy is available at www.bethlehemschools.org/boe/policies/support-services-series-8000/#p8413.2.
Lauren noted several issues with the policy. It does not mention anything related to transport for students with special needs, even those still in school until age 21; and it only concerns students in grades K through eight.
Relating back to the young boy getting dropped off, Lauren said this is a breach of policy because the CDS afterschool program he’s going to is outside the district yet a BCSD bus is transporting him. At the same time, Lauren said it is unfair as Lexi is most likely not able to attend Charles Park Center because she would receive no transport by a BCSD bus.
“I’m really saddened by this decision and they’re taking a unique opportunity from her,” she said. “I just don’t understand who they think they are to pick and choose what policy to breach and how one family gets to be the exception to that policy.”
She added that the district should amend its policy to touch on special needs students, including those aged up to 21.
Spotlight News reached out to Monroe, the BOE and Johnston but the district stated it would not comment.
Lauren’s emails with district officials continued through December. In those emails, Monroe wrote that she was unable to discuss the young boy’s transportation matters, that no policy has been recently updated to facilitate his transportation and that the district ensures that all policies are followed. Holly Dellenbaugh, the BOE president, also emailed Lauren to redirect her inquiry to Johnston, who then spoke with Lauren over the phone.
However, Lauren’s issues with the district and policy breach remain unresolved despite her attempts. She expressed frustration at how the district keeps referring to the aforementioned written policy in several emails but it still does not concern students with special needs.
She said, “I’m happy the young boy receives the transport and services as he obviously needs it but this is against policy. What you do for one family, you have to do for all.”
Lauren brought up that she still sees a BCSD bus drop the young boy off at the Albany CDS location daily and she is unsure if the district will do anything to amend its policy.
“It looks like Lexi will stay at Young Wildwood until she is 21,” she concluded. “I want to fight for these families with children who could benefit from having that kind of transport and in the right way.”