IEP - Transportation as a Related Service. A comprehensive guide.
There are a lot of moving parts to an IEP and many areas of need to consider for educating a child at school. Who provides the instruction and support, what goals will the child have, where will the child be educated and receive services, when and how will services and supports be provided, and how are we measuring progress? But, we also need to consider whether the child has transportation needs that aren’t met by the school’s transportation policy for all children.
Let's start at the beginning. What are the school's legal obligations under IDEA?
The IDEA law, or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, requires that students with disabilities receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that meets their individual needs. As part of this, the law includes transportation as a related service that must be provided to eligible students with disabilities.
Specifically, IDEA requires that transportation services be provided if they are necessary to assist a student with a disability to benefit from special education. This can include transportation to and from school, as well as transportation to and from related services, such as therapy or counseling that is provided in a separate location and other school activities.
IDEA also requires that transportation services be provided at no cost to parents or guardians of the student with a disability, and that the transportation provided be in accordance with the student's IEP. The IEP team is responsible for determining the specific transportation needs of the student with a disability and documenting those needs in the IEP.
What types of disabilities or circumstances might require specialized transportation?
- Students with physical disabilities, such as those who use wheelchairs, have difficulty walking or those who can not maintain a safe position without the use of a harness or vest. This would also include students with vision or hearing disabilities that require specialized signals (audible, tactile, or visual) or any student needing a trained aide or assistant for safety.
- Autistic students may require specialized transportation to accommodate sensory needs or to ensure safety during transportation. This might include the use of a smaller, less crowded vehicle (van or car) or a separate vehicle that has a shorter route with less stops.
- Students with intellectual or developmental disabilities or those with challenging behaviors may require transportation with trained attendants who can provide support and supervision during transportation.
Can the school refuse to transport a student based on challenging behaviors?
Transportation cannot be denied solely because of a student's behavior.
However, there are circumstances in which transportation services may be modified or limited based on a student's behavior. For example, if a student's behavior poses a risk to the safety of themselves or others during transportation, the transportation service may need to be modified in order to ensure the safety of all passengers. In such cases, the IEP team may need to consider the use of specialized transportation or the presence of additional personnel to ensure safety.
It's important to note that if transportation services are modified due to a student's behavior, those modifications must be based on the student's individual needs and documented in their IEP. Any modifications made to transportation services should not result in a denial of the student's right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as required by IDEA.
What types of alternate or specialized transportation might be considered?
If a child is unable to ride the school bus unsupported due to a disability, the school district must consider providing alternate transportation that meets the individual needs of the student. The type of alternate transportation that might be considered depends on the specific needs of the student, and the availability of transportation options in the school district.
Here are some examples of alternate transportation options that may be considered:
- Safety equipment: Equipment, such as harnesses and vests, can be fitted in the school bus.
- Specialized transportation: This may include a smaller vehicle, such as a van or a taxi, equipped with a wheelchair lift or other adaptive equipment as needed to accommodate the student's mobility needs.
- Personal transportation: In some cases, a parent or other caregiver may be able to provide transportation for the student to and from school and may be reimbursed based on state guidelines or school policy (usually based on mileage or a daily rate).
- Public transportation: If the student is able to use public transportation, the school district may provide assistance in obtaining bus or subway passes, or in arranging for a personal escort or travel training as needed.
- Transportation provided by another school district or agency: If the school district is unable to provide appropriate transportation for the student, they may be required to contract with another school district or private agency to provide transportation that meets the student's individual needs.
- Rarely and only when all other options have been exhausted, a student may be unable to access school due to transportation barriers. In these cases, the school district may need to provide home instruction until appropriate transportation can be arranged.
Keep in mind any training required, for the bus or van driver or an aide, can and should be included in the “staff training” section of the IEP. This can include training to use specialized equipment, disability or cultural awareness, behavior management, first aid and safety training, communication, assistive technology, or general information regarding the child that will be beneficial in ensuring the safety and well-being of all students.
Now that we are clear about the schools responsibility to provide transportation when it is determined necessary in order to provide FAPE…
What can a parent do if the school denies transportation or fails to provide transportation, even temporarily?
If a school refuses to provide transportation in the IEP, OR fails to provide the documented transportation, the parent may take several steps to address the issue:
- Request an IEP meeting: The first step should be to request an IEP meeting to discuss the transportation issue with the IEP team. During the meeting, the parent can explain why transportation is necessary for their child to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and request that transportation be added to the IEP.
- Provide documentation: If the school district is refusing to provide transportation, the parent may need to provide documentation to support their request. This may include medical records, evaluations, or other documentation that demonstrates why transportation is necessary for the student to benefit from special education.
- Keep records of when you must use personal transportation (only when the school fails to provide the transportation documented in the IEP), including mileage and request reimbursement forms from the school.
- Contact the state education agency: If the school district continues to refuse to provide transportation after the IEP meeting, the parent may contact the state education agency to file a complaint. The state education agency can investigate the issue and help to resolve the dispute.
- File a due process complaint: If the issue is not resolved through the complaint process, the parent may file a due process complaint. This is a formal legal process that allows the parent to request a hearing to resolve the issue.
Part of my role as a Master IEP Coach® is helping parents advocate for the services their child needs and that absolutely includes transportation. I have many years of personal experience in advocating for proper transportation for my own child as well as multiple clients in a variety of situations. I also have the added experience of being previously employed by a private school transportation company who serviced four districts, and am well versed in what can and can’t be done to provide appropriate transportation. Sometimes those solutions require out-of-the-box thinking, determination and gentle reminders to the school of their responsibilities.
Book your FREE call with me today! I’d love to assist you in advocating for the transportation service your child needs to be able to access their education and have the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers to participate in school activities, including extracurricular activities, field trips, and other school-related events.
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