School transportation problems have cast a shadow on the start of school for hundreds of Quebec families, but parents of children with intellectual and physical disabilities in Montreal say it has been particularly complicated for them due to lack of adapted school transportation for their children.
On Monday, many yellow buses and school sedans were missing from roads across the city, resulting in 917 students unable to take school transportation to class, according to Radio-Canada.
This was especially hard for parents whose children attend specialized schools — often located miles away from their home.
"We had to drive all over the city of Montreal to get to school, not knowing if we would have buses to get back," said Isabelle Perrin, mother of Thomas, 18, who has an intellectual disability.
"It's very chaotic and stressful."
Despite an agreement reached between Quebec and the federation representing school bus companies last week, the province said service would resume gradually and that it is up to each school service centre and school board to organize the pick up of children and to notify parents.
As of Monday, the Centre de services scolaires de Montréal (CSSDM) had not reached an agreement with two of its transporters and invited parents to make alternative arrangements to get their child to school. The emails were sent out Sunday evening, the day before school started.
Perrin says it took more than two hours to get her son to the CSSDM's Irénée-Lussier special school located in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district before returning to work at her home back in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough — the southeastern end of the island back to the northeastearn part in the height of traffic.
"We had no information. No bus came by. No phone calls. It's impossible for our children to take public transportation by themselves. We can't keep them at home when we work either. We're stuck," she said.
Perrin said she offered to carpool two other children with disabilities to school on Monday morning to help other parents in the same situation as her.
'An essential service'
Geneviève Masson, mother of three children, including two six-year-old twins with intellectual disabilities, decries the lack of organization by the school service centre.
"There is uncertainty, lack of communication and crises to manage," said Masson, whose children attend the CSSDM's Saint-Pierre-Apôtre school in the Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension borough.
According to Masson, adapted school transportation for children with disabilities is not an option, "it is an essential service" and a priority.
"They can't tell us the day before for the day after. These are sensitive and vulnerable children. They don't always understand the changes and they need adapted services. All of this puts us in very complicated situations."
Masson says one of her sons had a seizure in the car on the way to school on Monday morning.
"It can be overwhelming and dangerous when you drive," she explains.
These are sensitive and vulnerable children. They don't always understand the changes and they need adapted services. - Geneviève Masson, mother of twins with disabillities
On Monday afternoon, the CSSDM announced on its website that school transportation service will be provided to all 6,700 students using yellow buses, sedans and paratransit starting Tuesday morning.
The school service centre did not immediately respond to an inquiry by CBC Montreal to confirm whether this was the case.
Lack of consideration
Anouk Lanouette-Turgeon, mother of an 11-year-old boy with Down syndrome, says this situation points to a larger issue concerning the lack of resources for children with disabilities.
"All these children are not accepted in the neighbourhood schools. We have to travel miles to get them into the few specialized schools in Montreal. We have no choice at all. From the age of five, these children spend almost three hours a day on a bus."
Recounting the time her son was forgotten on a bus, Lanouette-Turgeon deplores what she calls a lack of consideration given to students with disabilities.
"If there were adapted classes in our neighbourhood schools, we wouldn't have to go through all this," she said.