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February 23, 2010  |   Comments (6)   |   Post a comment

How to Defend Fully Funding Special-Needs Transportation

Requirements for transporting non-disabled students vary widely by state and may be subject to far-reaching cuts, but requirements for disabled students are governed by IDEA. Still, opportunities exist to boost efficiency and reduce expenses.

by Dr. Linda Bluth

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Across the nation, school districts are reporting difficulty in meeting requests from school boards and superintendents to further reduce the cost of transporting students to and from school. The current economy has forced some school transportation service providers to implement drastic changes in service to achieve cost reductions.

Many transportation directors are frustrated because they feel there is nothing left to cut without jeopardizing safety. Recently, a director of transportation shared with me that he recommended eliminating yellow bus services for non-disabled students, rather than operating in an unsafe manner. He suggested only serving disabled students. His superintendent of schools recognized that this solution would be extremely unpopular and wisely made the decision to not make further cuts in the transportation budget.

Variety of requirements
Transportation requirements for non-disabled students vary notably from state to state. The spectrum goes from no requirement for school bus service for non-disabled students on one end to parent  reimbursement for transporting children to and from school beyond specific mileage limits or boundaries at the other.

Eligibility criteria for non-disabled students are often based upon local law. States and local education agencies have different requirements for walking to and from school prior to meeting eligibility for school bus service, different viewpoints on the appropriate distance between bus stops, different guidelines regarding the length of school bus ride time, and completely different rules about transportation to extracurricular activities.

This past year, due to significant fiscal challenges that have caused deficits for many school districts, it has been all too common for school districts to increase walking distance, increase the distance and reduce the frequency of bus stops along a route, and reduce transportation availability to and from extracurricular activities.

Local directors of school transportation have had to reevaluate their operating budgets numerous times during the school year and maintain close scrutiny of what is essential and required by state law. Though school districts can be permitted to exceed state requirements for transportation, most, if not all, may not reduce mandated state requirements.

Different service for twins
I recently had a conversation with a parent of twins. One twin received special-education services and the related-service transportation. The other twin was served in regular education. The parent asked how her school district could justify increasing the walking distance for her non-disabled child in a high-traffic area when there was absolutely no change in services for her disabled child.

She was faced with the problem of having to drive her non-disabled child to school at the same time the school bus was arriving for her disabled child. Both children attended different schools with the same school start time. This parent was overwhelmingly frustrated and wanted an explanation of how school districts determine the differences in service delivery for non-disabled and disabled students.

I explained that the requirements for school bus service for non-disabled students and students with disabilities are very different. While differences exist between states for non-disabled student transportation, transportation requirements for students with disabilities are governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and are far more standardized from state to state.

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I am the father of two disable boys one with brain damage the other with weak bone problems both can walk on there own but need help. Everyone needs to understand just because a child is not in a wheelchair does not mean they don't need the bus, check with the family to see how you can help is one way to see if they really need it. It sometime takes doing just that to understand...

roy dotson    |    Jan 17, 2014 07:46 AM

Is there any transportation for a student with a IEP that is on a hardship tranfer. The IEP does not state anything about certain transportation. Is there a phone number. Thank you in advance

Donna Whitlock    |    Aug 10, 2011 10:54 AM

Why does this transportation for "special needs kids" apply for my neighbors that are from a foreign country? They get door to door service every day for all grade levels (preschool/kindergarten that require for an adult to appear so the child is allowed to depart bus) then elementary, middle school and high school age kids. I am able to observe this special treatment from my home. The kids do not need assistance walking and apparently have different special needs. I'm not one to usually complain but as a tax payer I feel that this is an odd situation. I realize that the US is a country that welcomes all people to enjoy our freedoms. In closing, as I see it, our fore fathers set up freedoms for all and not free handouts for all. Thanks and God Bless America.

Joyce W    |    Sep 21, 2010 01:59 PM

Continuation of previous post. I guess there is a maximum word count. By asking the wrong question, we are led to the wrong answer. The first question leads us to realize that the educational system we have built is based on the presence of school bus service, and to remove that aspect of the educational system, we are limiting opportunities for the next generation of Americans. The second question leads us to think we should take transportation away from students with disabilities as well. Think of the savings! The goal of IDEA is an inclusive education system where disabled and non-disabled children go to school, learn, and RIDE THE BUS together. (As an aside, it is interesting that implementing an inclusive educational system also saves money, but only if educators, school boards and state education departments are willing to abandon antiquated funding formulas for the use of “special” education monies so that “regular” buses, schools and classrooms can be adapted for the needs of ALL children.) At one time, it was an American Value that all children would receive FAPE. Until we reclaim that value, we will continue to see services chipped away at, and then when only a few are receiving services, those will be taken away from them under the guise of “fairness.” We can worry about amassing personal wealth, or we can worry about the future of our country. As the Fram commercial reminds us, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.”

Ted Finlayson-Schueler    |    Feb 24, 2010 08:26 AM

It has always been a fact that the intention of IDEA for full inclusion of students with disabilities in every aspect of the life of their school has been violated by unnecessarily segregated transportation services. This segregation of children with disabilities on “special” buses now become more glaring as willingness to fund transportation for non-disabled children, once a given, now appears to be evaporating in our Tea Party-fueled tax-cutting political culture. When Congress guaranteed FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to students with disabilities, it did so with the understanding that non-disabled students were already receiving one. The movement from neighborhood schools to large centralized schools that happened in the 20th Century was premised on the presence of school bus fleets to bring students to these larger schools. It was said that these centralized schools would give all students, even those in remote, rural areas, access to the latest educational opportunities. The idea of centralized school bus-serviced schools then fueled the post WW II race to the suburbs where two cars in the driveway and school bus service for the kids launched a particularly American lifestyle. It seems now that the values that drove us to want ALL children, i.e. not just our own, to have a better education, no longer exist in American Culture. As transportation services for non-disabled students evaporate, as parents lose jobs because of the need to walk or drive their children to and from school, as children have to give up the opportunity for extra-curricular activities because buses aren’t available, or children miss significant days of school or drop out, the next question we ask should be, “How can we do this to OUR kids?” Unfortunately, the next question that seems to be getting asked is, “How come those disabled kids are getting something my kid isn’t getting?” By asking the wrong question, we

Ted Finlayson-Schueler    |    Feb 24, 2010 08:23 AM

This article highlights one of the practices that is all too common in school districts: segregating bus routes for disabled and non-disabled children. If the bus is picking up a disabled child, why not the non-disabled sibling, who is attending the same school on the same schedule? Transportation officials have to become proactive in the placement of special classes and the placement of students in special classes. Our current "soured" economy might be just the catalyst that has been needed to ignite some school boards and superintendents to act in an unpopular but economically justifiable manner!

George Horne    |    Feb 23, 2010 05:43 PM

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