A Lexington woman says she has tried without success for several months to get the Fayette County Public Schools to provide a small special-needs bus to carry her daughter to school.
Angela Southern Roark said her daughter, Neveah, 10, is autistic and is prone to epileptic seizures if she becomes overstimulated. Because of that, Roark wants the school district to send a "short bus" that would provide a quiet atmosphere for her daughter.
Roark wants the bus to have a person on board to monitor Neveah, and she wants the bus to pull into her apartment complex on Polo Club Boulevard to pick up Neveah at her door.
Roark, 48, said the school district has offered to pick up Neveah at the street in front of the complex, using a regular size school bus with a reduced number of students on board and have Neveah sit separately from other children to provide the quiet atmosphere she needs.
Roark says that's unacceptable.
"I think that would be horrible, and would open my daughter up to being ridiculed and made fun of," she said. "I think it would be very dangerous to drop off any elementary student on this busy street. I refused the big bus because it's not proper transportation for my daughter."
Fayette Superintendent Tom Shelton said the district's proposal more than meets the requirements of Neveah's individualized education plan.
"We feel like we've gone above and beyond in this case," Shelton said. "But we can't seem to please her (Roark) because we haven't given her exactly what she wants."
Rather than using the school bus offered, Roark has been driving Neveah to and from Yates Elementary School. But she said her daughter has missed some days because Roark couldn't afford gas.
"Some days I keep Neveah at home, some days I take her, depending on the gas situation," Roark said. "I'm a single mom. I don't have a lot of money; I can't afford to take her back and forth every single day."
A meeting Feb. 3 between Roark and school representatives at Roark's apartment produced no resolution.
"I'm not going to put my child on a big bus with 15 or 20 kids when that could cause her to have a seizure," Roark said. "All we need is a short bus that pulls up in front of my apartment to pick up my daughter. Why can't a school bus pick up a disabled child at her building?"
Fayette schools have more than 9,960 special-needs children enrolled, each with an individualized education plan that details the services the student should receive. About 420 of the students receive special transportation accommodations. Such accommodations can vary, including a special safety vest to protect the child, a bus with a wheelchair lift, or having a driver's assistant monitor the student en route.
To provide for such needs, the district has eight large buses equipped with chair lifts, plus 23 so-called "short buses."
Roark's case began before the start of the school year, when she filed a special transportation request for her daughter.
Neveah's pediatrician, Dr. Chris Wessellkamper of Cincinnati Children's Hospital, wrote a letter saying Neveah needs "transportation with minimal students on the bus to better help minimize behavioral problems."
The school system has offered a regular-size bus that would have 21 to 26 students on board in the morning and 11 to 17 students in the afternoon. Some of them would be students with special needs, and a monitor would be on the bus, the district says.
Fayette schools officials said that because a large bus couldn't easily maneuver inside Roark's apartment complex, it would pick up Neveah at the street in front of the family's apartment.
"The bus stop we're asking them to go to is five bus-lengths away from their apartment," Shelton said. "I understand that Ms. Roark is an advocate for her child and we want to be as accommodating as we can. But we've gone above and beyond her request."
Roark, however, says she isn't backing down, and she is considering moving to another school district.
"I can't keep doing this," she said.