INDEPENDENCE, MO (KCTV) – An Independence mother says her daughter with special needs is at risk of getting seriously hurt because her school is taking away the only safe way for her to get to class.
Amanda Burkhart explained that her 9-year-old daughter Jessica used to be picked up by the school bus on the corner in front of the family’s home. That changed this year, though, with Jessica’s pickup spot now being a half-mile walk away at a bus stop.
While the walk may be doable for other students, Jessica suffers from a condition called hydrocephalus which causes fluid to gather around her brain.
The young girl has had nine brain surgeries and is in special education classes at her school. Burkhart said her daughter has an individual education plan, or IEP, with the district due to the condition.
The mother of three said Jessica and her siblings have always gone to Three Trails Elementary, always using the bus stop right outside the house. Then in May, Burkhart said the problem started when the school district told her there was a new school opening.
“They said you have an option,” she told KCTV5 News. “’You go to this school or go to three trails, and you will get no transportation for any of the three children.’”
Burkhart explained that no transportation from the district wasn’t an option because while Three Trails is close - a little less than a mile away - it’s across this busy street.
The new school, Cassell Park, is also close, possibly too close. Because the Burkhart’s home is about just under a mile from the new school the students don’t automatically qualify for a bus ride.
Burkhart said she reached out to the Independence School District but told KCTV5 News that she felt district officials ignored her pleas for help.
She also said she would walk her kids to school if she could, but Burkhart herself is blind.
“I told them, ‘I’m not asking you to roll out a red carpet because I’m blind,’ because then I’d have 10 people behind me saying, ‘I’ve got an issue, I need a bus,’” she explained. “But at the same time, I’m a single parent with three kids on my own.”
After spending the entire summer trying to get help from the district, Burkhart said she found out Tuesday night that officials would provide bus transportation to Three Trails for all three of her children.
However, they would have to get picked up at the stop nearly half a mile away, meaning no special pick up for Jessica, a move that Burkhart says could put her daughter in danger.
“Jessica has had 9 brain surgeries. It affects her walking,” she said. “She is just below the legally blind. She has a 9.5 plus prescription.”
Burkhart has officially filed a complaint with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, accusing the school district of violating her daughter’s rights as a student with special needs.
When asked by KCTV5 News for a comment on the story, the Independence School District said privacy laws prevent them from commenting on specific student information but provided the following statement:
The district has worked with the family to provide resources and support, including transportation. The district made numerous calls to the family that went unanswered and unreturned, so we sent a school social worker to make a home visit to ensure the family had the needed information and support regarding transportation. It is always best when parents work directly with our schools to provide important information and regular communication to allow us to support and serve all students.