Transportation is a related service when it is necessary in order for a student to benefit from special education. If a student cannot get to school, she cannot benefit from her education there. If a student cannot get to school on her own because of the physical or cognitive characteristics of her disability (even though she may live very close to the school) transportation should be provided as a related service. Transportation is also available to and from other sites for related services which are not provided at the student’s regular school. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.34(c)(16).]
The California Department of Education (CDE) has developed guidelines for IEP teams to determine when transportation is needed as a related service. The guidelines are not mandates on school districts, except to the extent that the guidelines repeat state or federal law. The guidelines are the state education department’s recommendations to school districts on the subject of transportation of special education students.
The guidelines, issued November 23, 1993, and most recently updated on March 7, 2016, state in part:
Primary Consideration: Pupil Needs
The specific needs of the pupil must be the primary consideration when an IEP team is determining any transportation needs. These may include, but are not limited to:
- Medical diagnosis and health needs consideration of whether long bus rides could affect a certain pupil’s health (duration, temperature control, need for services, health emergencies); general ability and/or strength to ambulate/wheel; approximate distance from school or the distance needed to walk or wheel oneself to the school; consideration of pupil needs in inclement or very hot weather.
- Physical accessibility of curbs, sidewalks, streets, and public transportation systems.
- Consideration of a pupil’s capacity to arrive at school on time, to avoid getting lost, to avoid dangerous traffic situations, and to avoid other potentially dangerous or exploitative situations on the way to and from school.
- Behavioral Intervention Plans [Title 5, C.C.R. 3001(g)] specified by the pupil’s IEP and consideration of how to implement such plans while a pupil is being transported.
- Mid-day or other transportation needs as required on a pupil’s IEP (for example, occupational or physical therapy or mental health services at another site, community-based classes, etc.) must also be taken into consideration when the IEP team discusses a pupil’s placement and transportation needs.
- Extended school year services, pursuant to Cal. Ed. Codesection 56345(b)(3), should be another consideration of a pupil’s need for transportation if considered necessary to provide a free appropriate public education as specified in a pupil’s IEP.
Transportation Staff and IEP Team Meetings
Effective practice requires that procedures are developed for communication with transportation personnel and that transportation staff are present at IEP team meetings:
- when the pupil needs the use of adaptive or assistive equipment;
- when school bus equipment is required to be modified;
- when the pupil exhibits severe behavioral difficulties and a behavior intervention plan is to be implemented;
- when the pupil is medically fragile and requires special assistance; and/or
- when the pupil has other unique needs.
Considering the identified needs of the pupil, transportation options may include, but not be limited to: walking, riding the regular school bus, utilizing available public transportation (any out-of-pocket costs to the pupil or parents are reimbursed by the local education agency), riding a special bus from a pick up point, and portal-to-portal special education transportation via a school bus, taxi, reimbursed parent’s driving with a parent’s voluntary participation, or other mode as determined by the IEP team. When developing specific IEP goals and objectives related to the pupil’s use of public transportation, the IEP team may wish to consider a blend of transportation services as the pupil’s needs evolve.
Specialized transportation, as a related service, must be written on the pupil’s IEP with specificity and should be approved by the transportation administrator. It is recommended that services be described in sufficient enough detail to inform the parties of how, when and from where to where transportation will be provided and, where arrangements for the reimbursement of parents are required, the amount and frequency of reimbursement.
Suspension from the School Bus
Occasionally pupils receiving special education services are suspended from bus transportation (Cal. Ed. Code 48900-48900.7, Grounds for Suspension). The suspension of a pupil receiving special education services from California transportation can constitute a significant change of placement if the district:
- has been transporting the student;
- suspends the student from transportation as a disciplinary measure; and
- does not provide another mode of transportation [Office of Civil Rights,[Letter of Finding Complaint No. 04-89-1236, December 8, 1989.]
A significant change in placement requires a meeting of the IEP team to review the pupil’s IEP. During the period of any exclusion from bus transportation, pupils must be provided with an alternative form of transportation at no cost to the pupil or parent or guardian in order to be assured of having access to the required special education instruction and services [Cal. Ed. Code 48915.5.]
Cal. Ed. Code 48915.5(c) reads:
- If an individual with exceptional needs is excluded from school bus transportation, the pupil is entitled to be provided with an alternative form of transportation at no cost to the pupil or parent or guardian provided that transportation is specified in the pupil’s individualized education program. [AB 1859, Chapter 492, Statutes of 2002 as amended by AB 685, Chapter 56, Statutes of 2007.]
The guidelines do not override the general provisions of federal or state law which would require a district to provide transportation in order for a child to benefit from special education. The full guidelines are available on the CDE website at http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/lr/trnsprtgdins.asp