Justin Lalane, a city student with disabilities, was stranded on a bus for hours on Thursday. (Courtesy: Judika Lalane / Guillermo Murcia/Moment Editorial/Getty Images)
The most vulnerable among us — schoolkids with disabilities — paid the heaviest price for the city’s failure to mount an adequate response to Thursday’s storm.
Education Department officials admitted Friday that roughly 700 bus routes were delayed in the gridlock caused by inclement weather, stranding thousands of students with disabilities on freezing roads until the last public school students were dropped off at their homes after 4:30 a.m.
Trapped in small vehicles for hours with no food or bathrooms, many kids soiled themselves and cried for their parents.
Some mothers and fathers took matters into their own hands and set out to rescue their kids.
“It was too much, I went to go get my son myself,” said Bronx mom Judilka Lalane, 52. “I walked to get him in the snow.”
Lalane’s son Justin is 20 years old and has autism that leaves him unable to communicate. He got out of class at the Public School 811 on Longfellow Ave. at 2 p.m. on Thursday.
When he still wasn’t home by 10 p.m., Lalane called his bus driver and learned he was stalled in traffic on Jerome Ave. about half a mile away from her Bainbridge Ave. She set out on foot to get him, herself.
“I knew he was hungry and wanted to use the bathroom,” Lalane explained. “I had to go.”
Lalane brought her son home safe. Many other parents reported similarly harrowing stories that left kids traumatized.
Another Bronx mother, Jennifer Reynoso, drove to rescue her 3-year-old son, who was trapped in a bus about a mile and a half from her home, when he still wasn’t home by midnight.
The boy, who has disabilities, had soiled himself and had bad diaper rash.
Reynoso kept her son home from school Friday.
“I was very frustrated and very angry,” said Reynoso. “There were 22 kids on my son’s bus. It’s obvious the city wasn’t prepared.”
Traffic is backed up at 11:55 p.m. on Thursday after a snowstorm crippled the city. At center, a school bus is pictured amongst the gridlock. (Andy Crosby)
Citywide Council on Special Education Co-Chair Gloria Corsino said she was flooded with calls from parents whose kids with disabilities suffered on buses that were stuck on the roads for hours.
“These drivers don’t allow kids to eat on the bus or use the bathroom,” Corsino said. “Imagine the trauma. This is just poor emergency management.”
Manhattan City Councilman Ben Kallos said the storm exposed serious weaknesses in the city’s beleaguered, $1.2 billion yellow bus system, which is already undergoing an overhaul amid widespread service problems, allegations of corruption and a federal investigation.
“All of this could have been prevented,” said Kallos, a Democrat who represents the Upper East Side and intervened with the NYPD to help other kids with disabilities get home from the same stricken bus as Reynoso’s son.
“When you already have a bus route that’s three hours long, and then there’s a storm, it’s going to double or triple,” Kallos said. “We’re setting up these drivers and kids for failure.”
The city will investigate busing problems encountered in the storm, said Mayor de Blasio spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg.
“Our top administration officials were working the phones and in touch with parents and staff to make sure students arrived home safely,” Rothenberg said.
“We arranged for students that were stuck on buses late in the evening to have police escorts to help them reach their homes more quickly,” she added.
City schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said the busing problems were a the result of a “perfect storm” of bad circumstances.
The delays impacted about 10% of all routes citywide, which serve 150,000 kids in total, according to the DOE.
While the children spent hours on buses trying to get home, Carranza said none suffered any injuries.
“So for us, we are very grateful for that,” he remarked.
Unprecedented problems have deviled the city school bus system since the start of the school year on Sept. 5, with delays and no-shows leading to nearly 130,000 calls to school bus help lines by October.
Carranza forced the ouster of two top bus executives that month amid a shake-up of the city’s Office of Pupil Transportation prompted by service issues and reports of corruption.
An independent audit of the city’s yellow bus system is ongoing and Carranza said the city is considering a number of fixes to improve service, such as mandating of GPS tacking systems on all buses.
The storm caused other headaches.
A boiler exploded at Public School 38 in Queens, injuring a staffer who had to be taken to a hospital.
School officials canceled after-school programs for Friday with relatively short notice for parents.
Brooklyn mom Irina David was notified that her son’s after-school activities were canceled at 11 a.m., forcing her to leave work early to get the boy.
“The DOE is a total failure for working parents,” said David, a marketing director whose son attends Brooklyn Public School 10. “I had to take off work early to get him. I don’t see the reason for it. The weather is normal today.”