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Fifth-grader lives her dream of finally riding the bus to school



BROOKLINE – Wednesday was Harper Oates’s first day of fifth grade. She is paralyzed and uses a wheelchair. Usually, someone drives her to Brookline’s Dexter Southfield School in an accessible van that her family owns. But that’s not the way she’d like to get to school. She’s watched her siblings ride the bus to school every day. Something she hasn’t been able to do because there haven’t been any wheelchair-accessible buses.

“I mean, I just want to take the bus,” Harper told us Wednesday morning.

Harper Oates takes her first ride on a wheelchair-accessible school bus.

CBS Boston

But today was different for Harper because she got a surprise. Her family and the school were able to get a wheelchair-accessible bus. She had never ridden with her wheelchair on a school bus before. Only having previously been in one when someone physically picked her up out of the wheelchair and put her on the bus.

Her face beamed with excitement when the bus arrived.

“I mean, this is the last thing I would’ve expected. I mean, at first, I didn’t see the handicap sign in the back. But, I mean, I got super excited. [when I did],” Harper said.

Her mom, Dawn, has been on a mission to get an accessible bus for Harper to ride to school so that she can go back to school like the other students.

“When I saw the bus coming down the street, I thought ‘It’s happening.’ But I couldn’t help but be a little bit sad because there are kids who will have their first day of school and won’t have that experience,” Dawn Oates said.

With a bus and bus driver shortage, it was challenging to get an accessible bus, but the school was willing to work with them.

“Districts all over the country right now segregate students with disabilities by putting them on separate buses when the reality is if they just invested in their buses and make sure they have access to accessible buses more kids can have an experience like Harper,” her mom explained.

It’s an important step for Harper and, Dawn hopes, for more schools in the future.