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Special Needs Student Attendance Plummets on First Day of Bus Strike

By Ben Fractenberg | January 16, 2013 6:05pm | Updated on January 16, 2013 7:08pm

DOWNTOWN — Attendance for special needs students was down about 40 percent Wednesday, according to officials, during the first day of a strike by more than 8,000 school bus drivers.

The students are part of District 75, which provides education and support to children who are disabled, have autism, cognitive delays and emotional issues. Many of the students are unable to take public buses or subways on their own.

"A lot of these children have wheelchairs and public transportation really will not accommodate them," said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott during a Wednesday afternoon press conference at City Hall. "Again, I want to applaud our parents for really, really being very focused on getting their children to school."

Officials said overall attendance was only slightly affected by the strike, with 87 percent of students making to class compared the January average of 89.5 percent.

Attendance for District 75 students fell to 49 percent Wednesday, compared to January's average of 83 percent, DOE officials said.

While approximately 4,000 out of the city's 7,700 bus routes were not running, some drivers who are not part of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 went to work Wednesday, prompting picketers at four bus vendors to block them from driving out of their garages, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"That is illegal. The NYPD was called in to intervene so that buses could roll out and start picking up students, many of whom may have been standing out in this morning's freezing rain with their parent, waiting for their rides to school" said Bloomberg during the press conference.

When the strike got underway, parents were left scrambling to try and get their children to school.

At P.S. 111 in Hell's Kitchen, which buses in many students from the Bronx, the consensus among parents was that some kids would not be coming to school Wednesday.

"A lot aren't going to make it today," said Ulisee Gonzalez, who was dropping off his two daughters at the schools.

"It's rough for a lot of parents, they work. But I understand the strike too."

The union is protesting the city's attempt to bid out new contracts for 1,100 bus routes for children with special needs. They say his could lead to inexperienced drivers being hired, which could be a safety hazard for the students.

Bloomberg has countered that the union striking because the city will not offer them job protections — something the mayor has said the city is legally bared from doing.

To find out if your child's route has been affected, click here.

For information on how to get your kids to school, click here.