Autistic teen doesn't qualify for DATS or school bus

A single father is struggling to get his autistic son to school after DATS told him transporting students is outside of its mandate.
Mike Dobbin struggles to get his autistic son Liam to school each day. (CBC)

A single father is struggling to get his autistic son to school after DATS (Disabled Adults Transit Service) told him transporting students is outside of the service's mandate.

Liam Dobbin, 17, is unable to use Edmonton Transit to get to Harry Ainlay High School.  A school bus isn't an option because he lives outside the school's catchment area.

His father, Mike Dobbin, now drives him to school each day but the trip makes him late for his sales job.

"I just need this help from either DATS or the school board," he said. "It seems to me that DATS is very capable of doing this. It's not an infrastructural problem, it's a policy problem. Their policy is not to drop children off at school."

Liam Dobbin, 17, is driven to school by his father. (CBC)

DATS director Lorna Stewart admits it's a difficult situation but says the responsibility for transporting Liam lies with Edmonton Public Schools.

"DATS is a service for adults with disabilities in Edmonton unable to use the regular transit service," she said. "DATS does not provide school-based transportation for high school students or junior high students."

The school board is also remaining firm on the catchment issue. According to Edmonton Public Schools spokeswoman Jane Sterling, even if a bus was available, Liam would face a two-hour ride just to get to school.

"We transfer 2,500 kids and we do it to the best of our abilities," Sterling said. "Everybody can't just have a specific unique bus plan. We have to accommodate all of those students."

Liam could qualify for a school bus if he transfered to Jasper Place High School where the board has found a spot for him.

But Dobbin says his son is doing well at Harry Ainlay and changing schools would be too disruptive for someone who needs routine and structure. He says staff understand Liam and know how to handle his behavioural outbursts.

"At this point, why would we give him another transition into another school and have it start all over again?" said Dobbin. "It's not best for him.

 "It would be most convenient for me, but it's far from best for Liam."