Most people know that school districts are legally required to provide certain protections and adaptations for students with medical or other special needs. What happens, however, when it’s the parent who needs the help?
According to the National Council of Disability, some 4.1 million Americans with disabilities are parents. This means 1 in 10 children have a disabled parent.
Officially, doing whatever needs to be done in order to get children to school and take care of their related needs is solely a parent’s responsibility. But having worked in a school system for the last 12 years, I know that staff are usually willing to do whatever they can to accommodate a parent experiencing a legit hardship, regardless of what it may be, if at all possible. After all, the parent’s pain or other medical issues also impacts the student in a variety of ways.
For example, most districts only provide bussing to students living beyond a minimum distance from their schools. This is because the cost of transportation is very expensive, one of the biggest costs faced by a school district in today’s world. But I have spent the last 8 years in student transportation, so I know that if there is a seat available on a bus, there is generally no problem with having a student who is technically not eligible use it. After all, the bus is already on the road. And if the students are told to walk to the nearest actual bus stop, the driver doesn’t even have to go out of his or her way, adding extra time to the route. No one wants a child to miss school unnecessarily, simply because of parental hardship.
That said, if the parent doesn’t come forward and let us know, we have no idea the family needs help.
If it isn’t possible to provide busing, then we advise the parent to reach out to the school’s social worker. That individual may be able to connect them with another parent in their neighborhood, who can either give their child a ride or accompany them on the walk to school. Many communities around the world have encouraged families to take part in a “walking school bus,” which is literally just what it sounds like. A group of students and adults walk the route the school, picking up members at designated points along the way. This way, families know their children are safe coming to and from school.
If there’s a parent-teacher conference scheduled at school and chronic pain is rearing its ugly head, ask your child’s teacher if it’s possible to chat via phone or video. Many times, it is. Some teachers are even amenable to visiting the parent at home instead. But if for some reason your physical presence is required and you can’t drive or don’t have a vehicle, ask if you can accompany your child on the school bus that day. For safety and practical reasons, this is something that school staff tend to approve sparingly. But when approached by a parent who has a true hardship, yet needs to do something at their child’s school, staff almost always agree to provide the parent with a one-day bus pass.
There’s that old saying about how it takes a village to raise a child, and many people within school communities will band together to do just that for a child in need, be it financial, physical or emotional. Yet at the same time, 21st century life in the U.S. often puts an emphasis on independence, so people who need help may feel embarrassed or even stigmatized. Admitting that you need others’ help can be truly scary for many. But once you take that step, you may be surprised by how much support those around you are willing to offer.