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  • WWHS This is one

    Filed at 6:17 am under by dcobranchi

    WWHS This is one of those stories that takes you through a range of emotions: frustration, anger, despair.

    IT WAS THE end of September when problems began on Samantha Milligan’s school bus.

    Samantha, 6, rides to an autistic support class at Richmond Elementary School on a bus that primarily carries special-education students.

    Autistic children have difficulty communicating. They can’t understand teasing. They can’t describe harassment.

    So you have to wonder what in God’s name the school district was thinking when two boys who’d been transferred from another elementary school for disciplinary reasons were added to the bus roster.

    The troubled boys, brothers in second and fourth grades who weren’t in special education, teased and tormented the vulnerable children on the bus.

    “My daughter would get off the bus crying and there are such communication difficulties, she couldn’t tell us. She was just crying,” said Samantha’s mother, Kelly.

    Which is bad enough.

    But the worst part is that it took seven weeks of relentless, almost daily pressure by Milligan to get the boys removed from the route.

    The district said the boys had “rights of due process” and couldn’t be taken off the bus until an investigation was complete.

    Hell, murder cases are resolved more quickly than that.

    Milligan began documenting the incidents involving her daughter and nephew, Richie, who’s also autistic, nearly two months ago.

    She said her daughter’s teacher at the Port Richmond school, Lea Taylor, was “a blessing” to her throughout, keeping her informed and acting as Samantha’s advocate.

    If only she could say the same thing about everyone else.

    “Monday, Sept. 30,” her journal begins, “Sam’s teacher reported the boys were teasing Samantha on the bus.

    “Tuesday, Oct. 1. The boys took Richie’s book bag and lunch box and were going to toss it off the bus.

    “Wednesday, Oct. 2. Bus aide notified the vice principal that the boys took Sam and Richie’s school bags and were calling them names. Called school. Sam’s teacher called back.

    “Thursday, Oct. 3. Called school several times. Was told Vice Principal Susan Rozanski was handling the problem and would be in touch with me.

    “Friday, Oct. 4. Called Rozanski. No reply.

    “Tuesday, Oct. 8. Called again. No reply. Wrote a letter to her and Principal Anthony Ciampoli asking them to please get in touch with me.”

    Milligan said she got little more than promises and reassurances from the school. So she began calling everyone else she could think of, and got bounced from bureaucrat to bureaucrat, from one department to another.

    She called the bully hot line, the transportation department, Central East regional headquarters, the Office of School Climate and Safety, Superintendent Paul Vallas and state Rep. John Taylor – all of it documented in her journal.

    Not one of those calls helped.

    On Nov. 5, Milligan said, one of the boys held her daughter while the other tried to hang her from her coat hood.

    Schools spokesman Paul Jackson said that the boys were suspended from the bus for two days and that the official report says only that they pulled Samantha’s jacket.

    On Nov. 13, Milligan seized the opportunity to confront Paul Vallas when he was a guest on a call-in radio show. He said he’d call back when he was off the air.

    He didn’t.

    Instead, Vallas called Claudia Averette, deputy director of the safety office. And she subsequently called Milligan to say that the boys were to be removed from the bus the following week.

    Averette defended the school district’s handling of the situation.

    “I do believe the cry-out by Mrs. Milligan wasn’t going unheard, but it does take that long to get all the parties to come forward to provide a statement, and to culminate all of that into an investigation,” she said.

    Richmond’s principal also was using “progressive discipline” with the boys, she said, by imposing increasingly harder penalties for each infraction, rather than just ousting them from the bus.

    In other words, the school was following protocol that was focused on protecting the troublemakers rather than their victims.

    There clearly was no sense of urgency about the situation or it wouldn’t have taken seven miserable weeks to get resolved.

    Unfortunately – as too many parents can tell you – Milligan’s infuriating experience with the school district is hardly unique.

    Peace finally returned last week to Samantha Milligan’s school bus.

    But the ordeal has left her mother without peace of mind.

    “I can’t believe I had to go through all this to get this done,” she said.

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