Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza stood with School Superintendent Christopher Maher and about a dozen city and state elected officials and city staff to throw his political and moral authority behind an effort to end the First Student bus strike which is affecting the ability of 9000 Providence school students to get to classes.
First Student Inc and the bus drivers, represented by the Teamsters (IBT 251) have yet to reach a deal. The sticking point is pensions – workers want one, First Student does not. Bus drivers began their strike last Thursday.
A new wrinkle developed Tuesday morning ahead of Elorza’s press conference:
The Rhode Island ACLU, along with the Disability Law Center and Rhode Island Legal Services, sent a letter to Providence Schools Superintendent Maher, emphasizing the school district’s “legal obligation to provide transportation to special education students during the city-wide school bus strike.”
Elorza and Superintendent Maher say they have been unable to find alternative transportation and that the City will reimburse parents for the costs they incur in getting their children to school themselves.
The three organizations who sent the letter say this response is insufficient and in violation of federal law and that 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.”
Maher said that his office would formally reply to the ACLU letter on Wednesday.
At the press conference, Elorza said that just under 1000 special education students are being affected. Accommodating their transportation needs would require finding fifty busses and fifty drivers. Elorza was planning to meet with representatives from the Teamsters Tuesday afternoon to find out if it would be possible to find drivers until the strike ends. If he can get the drivers, Elorza will begin to see if it is possible to “cobble together” the fifty busses needed.
Also speaking at the press conference were City Council President David Salvatore, State Senator Harold Metts and Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements.
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