By Emily Drooby
Sally Kabel loved going to school.
“She loved being with other kids, she loved having peers,” her mother Nicole Kabel explained.
Sally spent most of her life fighting leukemia and the devastating side-effects she experienced from treatment. Her mom said there was one place where Sally got to feel like a typical kid. “She didn’t get a lot of normal experiences, simply getting her to be a child in school with other children, was a tremendous accomplishment,” said Nicole.
That is, when she could get there.
For weeks Sally couldn’t, barred from riding the school bus because of bureaucracy. At first the issue was that Sally didn’t have a nurse, a requirement for medically fragile students.
When she got a nurse, the official coding was wrong, so the nurse couldn’t get on the bus. They were running into issues with the child having a car seat.
Sally’s family did everything they could to get the five-year-old to her classroom: running up expenses by driving her to her Manhattan school from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, while also spending hours on the phone with both the Department of Education and the Office of Pupil Transportation to get her back on the bus.
That worked eventually, but only for one year. “It was extremely frustrating,” Nicole recalled.
When Nicole went to sign Sally up for the 2018 school year’s buses, all of the changes she worked so hard to get were gone. She geared up to fight again, but the issues weren’t resolved in time for the new year.
“The school year started I think on September 7 this year, and Sally passed away on September 19,” she said.
Nicole was heartbroken that her then six-year-old missed out on going to the school she loved, in the last weeks of her life.
“I looked at my husband and I said, I am so angry, I am so angry that she didn’t get to go to school and have that joy this past week,” she said. “She fought so hard to be there, and I worked too hard to try and get her there and she didn’t get to go. And the bureaucracy behind that to me is an unforgivable thing.”
Nicole also furious at the lack of support from both the Department of Education and the Office of Pupil Transportation, at rarely getting anyone to answer the office phone, at getting a different person whenever she did get through and at losing out on valuable time with her daughter because she was cutting through red tape.
Now she’s making sure this doesn’t happen to other families. “They failed her, and they fail so, so many kids, so, so many kids,” Nicole said.
She shared her struggles during an October hearing of the New York City Council’s Education Committee. Her story shocked lawmakers and inspired change.
New York City Councilman Justin Brannen covers the Kabel’s Brooklyn neighborhood has known the family for years because of the struggles they’ve endured with Sally’s illness.
His office currently drafting a bill that would create what he calls a concierge within the Department of Education, someone to ensure special cases like Sally’s don’t get lost.
Councilman Brannan, said, “I think it’s a no brainer of a bill, it has a lot of support. I think once we get it moving, it will become real, and that’s really because of Nicole and the Kabel family.”
Brannan’s office hopes to have the bill introduced by the end of February.