Transportation is a related service under the IDEA regulations and includes travel to and from school and between schools; travel in and around school buildings; and specialized equipment, such as special or adapted buses, lifts and ramps.
It is the responsibility of a child's individualized education program team to determine if transportation is required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special-education and related services, and how the transportation services should be implemented. With this said, the challenge is how to be efficient and effective in meeting IDEA requirements for students with disabilities without diminishing service delivery for non-disabled students.
Unfortunately, too many school districts frequently look at their "regular transportation" costs in isolation from transporting students with disabilities. Looking at students with and without disabilities simultaneously may allow for potential cost savings previously unexplored. For example, integrating disabled students on buses with their non-disabled peers may result in additional bus occupancy and route reductions, thereby reducing expenses and saving money. When more students with disabilities join non-disabled students at community schools, these saving increase.
The following common-sense options are frequently evaluated by school districts seeking to reduce transportation costs:
1. Purchasing equipment that can simultaneously serve disabled and non-disabled students;
2. Travel training to reduce the need for curb-to-curb pickup for students with disabilities that can walk safely to a community bus stop;
3. Evaluating Medicaid as a source of funding for the related-service transportation for students with disabilities;
4. Improved routing, especially computer-aided route design;
5. Staggered bell times;
6. And when there are no better options, reimbursing parents for their operating costs of transporting their students with disabilities (when this is, of course, mutually agreed upon by the parent and school district).
Finally, the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) wrote to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) last year seeking information and guidance on the question of whether local education agencies may use monies from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act IDEA Part B grants to states to purchase yellow school buses to serve students with disabilities.
Specifically, we asked OSEP whether these buses may be used only to serve students with disabilities and special transportation needs or whether buses purchased with ARRA monies may be used to provide the opportunity for integration of disabled and non-disabled populations.
To date, NAPT has not received a response to this specific question. NAPT intends to follow up with OSEP, especially given the importance of accessing all available funding to serve students with disabilities and non-disabled peers alike. I will report back to you in a future article.
Dr. Linda Bluth is president of NAPT and quality assurance specialist at the Maryland State Department of Education’s Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.