Parent at Odds with Lakeland over Busing for Autistic Twins

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Eileen Muniz is no stranger to duking it out with Lakeland School District officials, having successfully fought to have her 12-year-old Autistic boy twins placed in a Manhattan school that serves their needs.

Now, Muniz is at odds with the district over the busing arrangements for her sons, Vincent and Mars, following an incident last month when they arrived home more than two hours late.

“It was a nightmare,” Muniz said. “I trust these people with my kid’s lives. They put my kids in danger.”

According to Superintendent of Schools, Dr. George Stone, on September 23 the United Nations was in session and President Obama was in New York City which created more than normal traffic congestion, thus delaying the school bus that was transporting the Muniz twins home.

“All the roads were blocked off,” Stone said. “The aide (on the bus) was in touch with the parent and when they got home the parent was fine.”

Muniz disagreed, saying she had lost contact with the bus and one of her sons, who has a cell phone, and she was in the process of putting out an Amber Alert for her children. When the bus arrived at their Mohegan Lake home, Vincent was curled up in a fetal position and visibly shaken.

“They definitely need continuity. They’re not good with change,” Muniz said of her sons. “For two days my kids didn’t want to get on the bus.”

Muniz said problems with the busing started to surface in the summer after Transportation Supervisor Kathleen Cummings, who Stone said was currently on sick leave, called to inform her the bus driver her sons had become accustomed to was being taken off the run. Slowly but surely, her sons were getting to the Association for Metroarea Autistic Children on 17th Street in Chelsea late in the morning, and arriving home late.

After complaining but receiving no satisfaction, Muniz said she reluctantly “put up with it during the summer.”

“The kids were flustered. I kept saying something bad was going to happen,” she said.

Muniz said she would like to have the same driver and bus monitor for the morning and afternoon runs. The district has agreed to have the same monitor, but Stone explained since the district tries to limit overtime as much as possible it’s necessary to have different drivers.

“We try to accommodate as best we can. We really do,” Stone said. “All drivers are screened and certified by the district. If a driver would not be a good fit for a run, we have some leeway in the contract. We feel we’re doing the best we can. The school district has done everything humanely possible to accommodate the needs of all special needs students.”

There are 902 students in Lakeland classified as special education: 59 of those students are placed out of district. Stone mentioned 13 classified students were chosen by their parents to attend other public schools at the family’s expense or in a private school.

“So many families with special needs students move to our district because we offer so many exceptional services,” Stone said. “We have programs for students on all sides of the spectrum.”

Every school day, more than 5,000 students are transported on 130 buses in the district.





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