Strategies to enhance collaboration between pupil transportation leaders and special-needs educators were covered during a virtual workshop hosted by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) on Wednesday.
To kick off the workshop, NASDPTS enlisted the help of John Eisenberg, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE). Eisenberg discussed special education law and how states, school districts, and school bus contractors can most effectively team up with special educators to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
Eisenberg highlighted four key pieces of legislation that every state pupil transportation director should be familiar with: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and their state’s specific regulations governing special education programs.
He then went on to discuss how each of these contribute to the development of a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
“A child's IEP team is responsible for determining both if transportation is required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and how the transportation services should be implemented,” Eisenberg said. “I think it's important for people to know that it cannot be an administrator alone or it cannot be the local director of special education or just a transportation director to make that determination. Each child's IEP team needs to have that conversation together.”
In a Q & A document created by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the U.S. Department of Education, Eisenberg pointed to several best practices for adhering to federal regulations in regard to transporting students with disabilities.
One question focused on confidentiality protections and how much student information should be given to school bus drivers about the students they are transporting.
In that event, “Each person, including a school bus driver, who collects or uses personally identifying information concerning a child with this disability, must receive training and instruction about the state's policies and procedures protecting the confidentiality of such information,” Eisenberg said.
Another question focused on best practices for when a school district may suspend a student from transportation service for behavioral issues and not provide an alternative form of transportation.
In that event, the document states that “If transportation is included in the child's IEP, a bus suspension must be treated as a suspension, under the IDEA, and all the disciplinary procedures applicable to a child with disabilities would apply. A local education agency (LEA) is not required to provide alternative transportation to a child with a disability who has been suspended from transportation for 10 school days or less, unless the LEA provides alternative transportation to children without disabilities who have been similarly suspended from bus service.”
“What that means is essentially that if you provide [alternative] transportation to kids in general education if they've been suspended, then you have to provide comparable levels of support to students with disabilities,” Eisenberg explained. “You’ve got to have some equity.”
In terms of strategies for IEP teams to consider when exploring student’s transportation options, Eisenberg covered the four below:
- Expanding ridership of small bus routes and integrating students with disabilities into general education bus routes.
- Using aides on buses.
- Adding bus stop monitors.
- Implementing positive behavioral support.
As for ways state directors of pupil transportation can get involved, Eisenberg used his home state of Virginia as an example, detailing some of the steps the state has implemented to boost collaboration with special-needs educators.
- Create regular meeting opportunities to discuss hot topics in the field.
- Offer joint professional development.
- Create curriculum for bus drivers with special education add on.
- Review any ongoing due process or state complaints on issues related to transportation.
- Training on behavioral techniques.
- Training on restraint (when can you legally put hands on a student in order to restrain them if their acting out in significant ways – biting, or hurting another student) and seclusion (where you can legally put students in terms of timeout for inappropriate behavior)
- Future emergency plans – pandemic, natural disasters, etc.
“Each of our kids with disabilities have such unique needs, so you’re going to have to address how you’re going to adapt your plan,” Eisenberg said. “At the end of the day, collaboration is key… and our organization is extremely excited about partnering with [NASDPTS] on finding ways we can expand our work together to make sure kids are successful, but also [ensuring] that staff is safe and they get the training they need.”