I will never know exactly what happened on the drive home from Open Mind School’s new location in Menlo Park. I know the driver, Mari, showed up 30 minutes late with a window taped shut. It took 45 minutes for the taxi to make its way over the Dumbarton Bridge and into Fremont, despite minimal traffic. Somewhere in Fremont, the driver stopped.
My daughter, in an unfamiliar city on an unfamiliar route with an unfamiliar driver, lost it. She began screaming “LET ME OUT!” and kicking the door. I imagine it looked pretty similar to the taxi meltdown a week earlier at my house. Someone (the driver? a bystander?) called 911. Fremont sent two police officers from its mental health crisis unit who thought Katie was having a psychotic episode.
Sitting in the boring Oakland workshop, I noticed my silenced phone “blowing up” with texts and voicemails. I excused myself and headed once again for the bathroom. Most of the numbers were unfamiliar, but I recognized the District transportation coordinator. I called her first. She told me Mari needed to speak with me.
“Isn’t she driving?”
I called one of the unfamiliar numbers and Mari answered. She handed me off to Officer S, who explained that he wanted to 5150 my daughter because she was having a meltdown in the cab. For those that don’t know, 5150 is the California statute that is used to place out-of-control individuals on a 48-hour hold in the psych ward. It is typically used for individuals with drug or alcohol addiction or various mental health conditions, often requiring medication.
Officer S launched into an explanation of the 5150 process. I cut him off. “I know what it is,” I said. “But I don’t think 48 hours in a mental health facility is going to change my daughter’s autism diagnosis.”
Dead silence on the line. Then, “I wondered about that.”
“Did the driver tell you this was the first day at a new school in a new city on a completely different route with a new driver? Or that she was 30 minutes late picking Katie up?”
“No,” he said.
“Your daughter is really out of control,” he said. “The driver is in way over her head.”
“I can imagine, but Katie’s not out of control in the typical sense. She’s having an autistic meltdown which this taxi company keeps triggering out of sheer ignorance.”
“I’m afraid to open the door. In case she bolts into traffic.”
“Katie’s not a bolter, but it’s hard to say what she might do after being trapped in the cab for this long.” I took a deep breath to calm myself down. I was furious, but screaming at a police officer was not going to help either me or Katie.
“I’m not going to arrest the driver if she tries to drive off, but I have to say, as a mandatory reporter, the conditions in this taxi are not safe. Your daughter could fall out the window!”
I could tell Officer S was upset. Was there something truly wrong with the window? Or the cab in general? I asked him to describe what he was seeing. Afterward, I was reluctant to explain that the situation appeared to be nothing new. The taxi company had been transporting my child in this manner for nearly a year.
“It’s abusive,” Officer S said. “As a parent, I’m telling you, I would not let them transport my child.”
“Between you and me, this is the last day they are driving my daughter.” The threat of a 5150 incident had pushed me over the edge. “I’m done.”
“Good,” Officer S said, relief apparent in his voice.
“I’m sure my school district will push back. Will you talk to them if I need help?”
“I’d be more than happy to. You have my number on your cell but I’ll text it to you as well.”
Clearly this officer was bothered by the transportation conditions Katie and I had been forced to endure.
“Like I said, I won’t arrest the driver, but I don’t think it’s safe for her to transport your daughter. Can you come get her?”
“The problem is, I’m in Oakland, trying to finish a meeting. Plus I have no idea how long it would take to get there.” I paused, thinking. “Let me see if my sitter can go to Fremont.”
“I’m in no hurry,” Officer S said. “Call her and get back to me. I’ll wait here until someone arrives.”
I phoned Melissa and we quickly put together a plan. Melissa would drop off her kids in Pleasanton and then drive to Fremont. I would meet her and Katie back at my house.
I finished the workshop and headed home, unsure what I would encounter when I arrived.
To be continued….
Until next time,