RIDGEWOOD, N.J.— Broken promises is what Maryanne Schwing says she's been getting from area bus companies and Ridgewood school officials since March 2016.
She was assured multiple times that her 8-year-old autistic and non-verbal son, Mikey, would be comfortable on his ride to and from school in an air-conditioned bus, she said.
But that hasn't been the case in more than a year, Schwing said.
Mikey continuously has been coming home severely overheated and, one year ago this month, her son suffered an asthma attack so bad that it required medical attention, according to Schwing, a North Arlington native.
She said she recently received a letter from the state that Ridgewood is required to provide documentation that it is in compliance with an agreement (scroll to the bottom for more on the agreement) enforced by a judge on March 15, 2017.
Schwing has since retained an attorney and currently has an enforcement action with the New Jersey Department of Education, she said. And it all leaves her wondering:
"Why does it need to go this far?" she said.
"I’m so beaten up from the whole situation mentally. I really don’t know what else to do to get the medical and educational needs for my son."
And it's not just Mikey that Schwing is worried about.
"I really want to make a difference," she said. "My son couldn’t say that he was hot or what was going on and it’s scary that there are bunch of other kids out there that can’t express their needs or how they’re feeling.
"Even when buses are to conditions, they’re not putting the air on."
Daily Voice placed an email to Superintendent Daniel Fishbein on Monday, and received an automatic reply saying he would be out of the office until July 17.
Schwing says she has long stressed the importance of an air-conditioned bus for Mikey to the district ever since he was enrolled in December 2012.
The story began unfolding in March 2016, when Schwing noticed Mikey was coming home unwell, and she had a feeling it had to do with rising temperatures and potentially faulty air-conditioning on his bus, she said.
At the time, Mikey was riding with VIP Education Services out of Hackensack, and Schwing said there were "a few times" she told the district that the buses seemed warm as Mikey would get off flushed and unwell.
"They instructed me to just tell the driver to turn the AC on," she said
"I asked the driver many days to please make sure the AC was on. He continuously said it was."
In April 2016, Schwing purchased the Kestrel Drop 3, which was clipped to Mikey's safety harness and sent the temperature through a bluetooth from the bus to her phone.
"To my surprise, the bus was well over 80 degrees," Schwing said.
On May 25, 2016, Schwing sent an email to her case manager, Stephanie Tibaldo, obtained by Daily Voice.
"I am writing to you about a bus concern that requires immediate attention and needs to be resolved by tomorrow," the email read.
"Over the pass number of IEP meetings I have consistently expressed concerns about my son, Michael's asthma and him requiring an air-conditioned bus [as per his pulmonologist].
"I also have provided the district with a note from his pulmonologist that requires him to have the bus air-conditioned."
Tibaldo on May 30, 2016, assured Schwing in an email obtained by Daily Voice that the bus company, VIP Education Services, would be monitoring the situation.
"The buses are not allowed to stay running while parked in front of the school waiting for students to board so it takes some time to cool down when the students get on. If the bus is sitting in the sun, it unfortunately gets especially warm," Tibaldo said.
"The bus company will pay closer attention to the issue moving forward and will monitor the bus temperature as best they can. Hope this helps."
VIP Transportation via text message assured Schwing that mechanics had checked the air-conditioning system and it was working properly.
A surprise inspection by the New Jersey MVC in July 2016 cited the vehicle as being faulty with 10 rejections, according to an email from MVC officials obtained by Daily Voice. The vehicle was removed from operation for the following reasons:
- 1. Excessive smoke from tailpipe
- 2. Rear air conditioning unit inoperable
- 3. Gear shifter interlock inoperable
- 4. Seat back cushion not shielding seat frame metal
- 5. Left upper (7 inch) stop light inoperable
- 6. License plate light inoperable
- 7. Handicap indicator inoperable
- 8. Handicap power lift inoperable
- 9. Non reflectorized handicap identification
- 10. Crossing arm inoperable
"The driver and the bus company received 3 summonses in total for falsifying the driver’s daily inspection report, not having a quarterly inspection, and not making repairs to the vehicle," Schwing said.
"In the meantime, I retained an attorney."
The following is an email obtained by Daily Voice that Fishbein sent to Schwing in June 2016 regarding the VIP bus Mikey was riding, a month before the inspection:
"I have followed up with the Special Programs Department. AC is working on the buses. As I said on the phone, the NJ had an no idling law. Buses shut off their engines when waiting for the student at the schools. When students get on the bus, the driver start the bus and turns on the AC. The bus company has documentation that you do not want bus service, if that changes, please inform the district so we can get your child back on the bus."
Right after the failed inspection was when the district switched over to Scholastic Bus Company out of Fair Lawn, and Schwing was assured by Ridgewood's Business Administrator Alfredo Aguilar that he spoke with the company's dispatcher and Mikey's bus would be air-conditioned.
It was on that bus that Mikey suffered an asthma attack, Schwing said.
Daily Voice placed a phone call and email to Aguilar on Wednesday morning.
The March 2016 agreement requires that Mikey's bus be kept between 68 and 74 degrees; the bus must be air-conditioned; and a nurse under the district's administration will ride the bus with Mikey to monitor the temperature, according to Schwing.
She has yet to experience any problems with the temperature on the bus since Monday, the first day of the extended school year for Mikey, although he still does not have a nurse, Schwing said.
Meanwhile, she waits for a response from the district.
"Transportation is supposed to be part of the whole package of special education," Schwing said.
"Mikey is just not getting what he needs and I've communicated so many times with the district and the bus company. It wasn't any lack of communication, I just don't understand why it just can't be done."