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Michael Dorfman
BY Michael Dorfman

6 Questions & Answers about Transporting Students with Special Needs

Transportation is one of the most important services a school district is required to provide to students with disabilities under federal and state special education laws.

The article will focus on the federal requirements regarding transportation and whether or not your school district is in compliance with those laws. Individual state laws are not discussed as the laws vary and are beyond the scope of this article.

This article is meant to provide a summary of the laws and some of the judicial interpretations of those laws.  To interpret whether the laws and case law are applicable to your facts and situation, you should always consult an attorney.

 1. What laws govern the transportation of students with disabilities?

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”): explains at 20 U.S.C. § 1401(26)(A) that “transportation” is a related service under the law for students identified with a disability under the law and explains that:

  • The term “related services” means transportation, and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services (including speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, including therapeutic recreation, social work services, school nurse services designed to enable a child with a disability to receive a free appropriate public education as described in the individualized education program of the child, counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services, and medical services, except that such medical services shall be for diagnostic and evaluation purposes only) as may be required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes the early identification and assessment of disabling conditions in children.

The IDEA implementing regulations located at 34 C.F.R. § 300.34(a), further define “related services,” stating:

  • General. Related services means transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, including therapeutic recreation, early identification and assessment of disabilities in children, counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services, and medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes. Related services also include school health services and school nurse services, social work services in schools, and parent counseling and training.

34 C.F.R. § 300.34(c)(16) of the implementing regulations states that the definition of transportation includes:

  • Travel to and from school and between schools
  • Travel in and around school buildings
  • Specialized equipment (such as special or adapted buses, lifts, and ramps), if required to provide special transportation for a child with a disability.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973:   The pertinent portion of the law states that the school district must provide non-academic and extracurricular services in such a manner to afford handicapped students an equal opportunity for participation in such services and activities.  Non-academic and extracurricular services and activities include transportation.

For specific interpretations of these rules and regulations, the following websites are helpful: Department of Education’s Office of Special Education, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, federal laws, states laws, and judicial decisions.

2. Are disabled students entitled to transportation?

In general, if a school district provides transportation for general education students, then it must provide transportation for special education students as well, no matter to which location the student is assigned.

If a school district does not provide transportation services to general education students, the issue becomes a little trickier.  The IEP Team must decide on an individualized basis whether the special education student requires transportation as a “related service” in order to receive a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”).  If the special education student requires transportation as a related service, the school district must provide it regardless of whether it provides transportation for general education students.

 3.  Can I choose the type of vehicle in which my child is transported?

It is generally the school that decides what type of vehicle it will use to transport your child with special needs.  Vehicles can include minibuses, cars, minivans, and even taxicabs.   Unless there is an issue with Least Restrictive Environment (“LRE”) parents generally don’t have a say in the choice of vehicle decision.

4. Can I request that the vehicle providing the transportation have specialized equipment?

One of the biggest issues that arise is air-conditioning for disabled students.  Climate-controlled transportation is not explicitly required under the IDEA.  However, if an IEP team determines that a child needs climate-controlled transportation to receive special education services, related services, or both, and the child’s IEP specifies that such transportation is necessary, the school district must provide this special transportation at no cost to the parents.  Similarly, climate-controlled transportation is not required under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (Section 504) unless a child with a disability has an identified need for this transportation.  See 34 CFR Part 104.

However, the transportation of nondisabled children in climate-controlled buses, while children with disabilities are transported in separate buses that are not climate-controlled, might raise issues of disability discrimination under Section 504.

5. If a child with a disability spends a significant amount of time being transported to and from school, as well as to and from another location to receive special education and related services, is the child entitled to receive additional school time to make up for the time lost in transportation?

Neither IDEA nor the implementing regulations address the issue of the length of a school day.  Determining the length of a school day is a decision left to the state department of education.  However, IDEA defines school day as any day, including a partial day, that children are in attendance at school for instructional purposes.

Additionally, school day has the same meaning for all children in school, including both those with and without disabilities.  In general, a school day for a child with a disability should not be longer or shorter than a school day for general education students.  However, if a child’s IEP Team determines a child needs a shorter or extended school day in order to receive FAPE, then appropriate modifications should be incorporated into the IEP.  However, these modifications must be based on the unique needs of the child, as determined by the IEP team, and not solely based on the child’s transportation time.

6. What do I do if my child is on a school bus way too long every day?

This is something that should be brought to the attention of the IEP team.  The length of the child’s ride to and from school can negatively impact a child.  Many states have laws establishing a maximum travel time.  Contact your state department of education to determine the applicable state law.  The federal laws do not specifically address length of travel time.  However, under Section 504 and IDEA, discrimination and question of FAPE arguments could be raised based on the distance the facility is from the home or whether general education students are subjected to lengthy bus rides.

Conclusion

If you are having a transportation issue with your school district contact an attorney who specializes in special education that can examine your factual situation and determine whether based on case law and statutory law and regulations whether changes can be made or your child is being denied FAPE.  No two situations are the same and every student and situation must be examined on an individualized basis.

Michael Dorfman

Written on September 23, 2013 by:

Michael R. Dorfman is an attorney and partner at Nykanen Dorfman, PLLC in Farmington Hills, Michigan.  In his special education law practice, Michael represents students and their families when there is a conflict with the school district or when an appropriate education is not being provided.
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