Mornings are a marathon for East York mother Charlotte Dobo.
“We are currently walking here, dropping Isaiah off at the bus, walking back home, waiting half an hour, walking back here dropping Rivers off at school and walking back home again and then I get my work day started,” she explained.
Dobo had hoped to drop both her sons at the same time for school, but it turns out one of them is being picked up for the school bus an hour before the starting bell.
“I have a drop off at 7:44 in the morning. There’s an hour and one minute in between their respective drop off times,” she said.
This has been the least of her worries though.
“The first two weeks were awful, really stressful for everybody, and while I can sort of manage the stress of things not going the way I planned, my son who is intellectually disabled and has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder can’t,” Dobo explained.
“The first day the bus was late, the second day the bus didn’t come at all, the third and fourth day… we ended up driving him only to find out the bus did come but at like 9 a.m.”
She said she has consistently reached out to both the TDSB and the bus company directly about the issue.
Kevin Hodgkinson, general manager of the Toronto Student Transportation Group — the organization that handles busing for the TDSB and TCDSB, told Global News, “The first several weeks of school can be somewhat chaotic as there are a lot of changes taking place in the system.”
“Buses are scheduled in early to schools to help mitigate any on route timing delays. As drivers become more comfortable with their routes, students, and schools the consistency of service should improve,” he said.
Hodgkinson also pointed to a request by the family to change his pick up and drop off location this week as having contributed to the confusion. Dobo said issues with busing for her son are not new.
“In the three years that he’s been going there, there’s been significant busing problems. But I’m told that this year is the worst so far and I’m feeling that,” she said.
Bruce McIntosh, former president of the Ontario Autism Coalition, was not surprised to learn of problems faced by students with special needs and school bus transportation.
“Some pretty serious mistakes being made: kids being left on buses, drop offs happening in the wrong place, all sorts of these things. Fortunately there aren’t as many, but even one is a serious problem,” he said.
McIntosh pointed out children with autism need consistency.
“Kids on the spectrum don’t deal with changes in their routine well. Life needs to be predictable. It needs to stick to a schedule, things need to happen in the same order,” he said, adding attitudes toward transportation for children need to change.
“I think a lot of people in school boards consider the bus transportation something that gets kids to school I think we need to look at it differently I think we need to see it as part of school and give it the same care and attention as we would a child in the classroom.”
Meanwhile, Dobo said she worries about her son from the moment he gets on the school bus until the second he gets off at the end of the day.
“My son hasn’t shown up at the end of the day, I have no idea where he is… it takes more than an hour past the originally scheduled drop off time for him to arrive,” she said.
Her son Isaiah is mostly non-verbal.
“I don’t know if he’s thirsty, I don’t know if he’s hungry and I can’t help.”
Global News reached the regional manager for Isaiah’s school bus operator, Sharp Bus Lines Limited, who pointed to a “bit of a frenzy” over the first few weeks of the school year.
“Living in Toronto, getting from Point A to Point B doesn’t always take the same amount of time due to traffic and construction. The expectation is that they are at the right spot on time,” said Jason Andrade.
He added all efforts are made to ensure drivers pick up and drop off on time, and bus operators are “making strides and doing better.”
Dobo said that sentiment is of little comfort to her as she fears for Isaiah’s safety.
“He’s in such good care at the school, the best care at school, and as soon as he leaves my care or the school’s care, I have no idea what’s happening,” she said.