I.        Relevant Transportation Statutes and Regulations

A.  IDEA: 20 USC 1401(22):  “The term ‘related services’ means transportation…as may be required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education…”

B.  IDEA Part B Regulations: 34 CFR 300.16(b)(14): Transportation 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) if required to provide a special education for a student with a disability.”  The IEP must include the type of vehicle, specific equipment, circumstances under which transportation will be provided, pick-up and drop-off points, personnel who will be involved, and goals and objectives for the transportation.

C.  Section 504 Regulations: 34 CFR 104.37 and 104.43: The Section 504 regulations also include transportation as among the package of nonacademic services which school districts are required to supply to eligible students and add that students should not be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or otherwise discriminated against with respect to transportation provisions.

II.      Legal Standards for the Provision of Transportation

A.  General Education: No entitlement except for students who live beyond the mileage limit.  However, if schools elect to provide transportation (to afterschool events, to students who live closer than the mileage limit, etc.), districts must provide transportation to all similarly situated students with disabilities.

B.  Students with Disabilities:  Districts must decide on an individual student basis whether the student requires transportation to benefit from special education.  (Letter to Dubois, EHLR 211:267 (OSEP 1981)).  If a child’s disabilities make it problematic to get to school in the same way as nondisabled students, they must consider what transportation arrangements are necessary to enable the student to benefit from their educational program.  If the classified student can use the same transportation as nondisabled students, then transportation is not a covered related service for that student.  School districts may not require parents to supply the transportation themselves and then award reimbursement for transportation, unless parents agree.  (Letter to Hamilton, 25 IDELR 520 (OSEP 1996)).

C.  Students with Temporary Disabilities:  Students who may not be eligible for IDEA services but who have a temporary disability such as a broken leg are also entitled to temporary transportation services if necessary to enable them to participate in school.

III.    Special Education Transportation

A.  Vehicles:  District choices must be consistent with industry standards and any applicable federal or state regulations for the transportation of persons with disabilities.  Yellow school buses, vans, minibuses, private cars and even taxis may be used, although the “LRE” mandate requires districts to transport classified students with nondisabled students to the maximum extent appropriate.  Using alternative transportation is generally acceptable if the student’s disability prevents the student from riding safely on a regular bus or poses a safety threat to other students.  Districts may contract out for the provision of transportation services, but their legal obligations remain.

B.  Specialized Equipment:  Specialized equipment that is needed to get a student into or out of the vehicle (lifts, harnesses, brackets), maintain student safety in the vehicle (restraints, security devices, car seats, seat belts, air conditioning or climate control techniques), or address emergency concerns (two-way radios, phones) must be provided if needed.  IDEA specifically mentions adapted buses, lifts and ramps.  Districts must keep abreast of new developments and technological innovations for the transportation of students with disabilities. Schools must comply with proper guidelines for usage of equipment.  Schools shouldn’t make substitutes for proper use (lifting/carrying a student), should ensure proper securing and/or restraint, proper training of personnel, and should maintain equipment in good condition, working order, with proper inspections. 

C.  Personnel to Assist Students:  If personalized services are needed in the classroom, they probably are needed on the bus.  Bus monitors may be needed to help students communicate; aides and escort services may be needed for students with behavior problems or who need direct supervision; nurses or others may be needed to provide services to medically fragile students.

D.  Transportation in and around school buildings: Transportation includes access to the school building as well as movement in and around the school’s interior, including classrooms and corridors.  Schools must consider and supply if needed lifts, ramps, curb-cuts, elevators, specialized equipment like “stair-tracs” or other devices.  Wheelchairs may also need to be provided by the school for a student’s use during the school day and school activities, even if they use their personal wheelchair outside of school hours.  If the student brings their own wheelchair to school, the district may be required to maintain and take care of  the personally-owned equipment while on school grounds.  (Letter to Stohrer, EHLR 213:209 (OSEP 1989)).

IV.    Extent of Special Education Transportation

A.  All components and elements of the educational program:  The district is required to transport students with disabilities between educational programs offered at a location other than the school, or offered at times other than usual school hours.  The three questions are: (1) Is the educational program related to FAPE and set forth in the IEP?  (2) Is it strongly related to IEP goals and objectives even if not specifically set forth in the IEP?  (3) Is transportation necessary to participate in that program?  If yes, transportation is required.  Examples include summer programs (extended school year); afterschool programs if IEP-related services are delivered in that setting; remedial study programs and tutorial programs; transportation to settings where related services, transition, vocational, or other services are provided; private or residential schools at which the student is placed by the school district; and transportation to a place other than the home where home instruction is to be provided.  (Also remember that if students without disabilities can participate in after-school activities at the school, but students with disabilities have to go elsewhere for after-school activities, transportation must be provided under Section 504).

B.  Pickups and Dropoffs:  The decision whether to transport the child from home or from a designated bus stop is made on an individual basis as part of the IEP.  (Letter to Smith, EHLR 211:191 (OSEP 1980)).  Appropriate questions include: (1) Is the child mobile or nonambulatory?  Can the child move from one location to another without difficulty?  (2) What are the effects of the child’s age and disability on ability to reason and understand potential safety hazards en route to school?  Are the student’s maturity and reasoning skills sophisticated enough to enable the child to make prudent decisions about bus travel, following directions, and reaching a pickup point safely?  Will the student be susceptible to potential hazards on the way, such as oncoming traffic, third party intruders, and peer influences?  (3) What is the distance to be traveled and the nature and conditions of the route to a bus stop?  Is the route arduous or dangers for a child to navigate, given age and disability considerations?  (4) Is private assistance readily available to the student, such as a parent or other person, including classmates, to help access the transportation?  (5) Is public assistance available en route to the transportation, such as crossing guards.  (6) What are the student’s general supervisory needs?

C.  Curb vs. Door or Inside Home?  At what exact point on or off the student’s property should a student be dropped off?  Case decisions are mixed; some allow districts to drop the student off at the curb even if the student can’t navigate the route from the house independently or without great difficulty, while others have required schools to deliver students to their front doors.  However, there is general consensus that district personnel are not obligated to carry the student across the threshold or come inside to retrieve the student.

D.  Unmaintained roads and inclement weather: The school’s transportation duties are not lessened simply because an access road is poorly maintained or the route conditions may be dangerous for the vehicle.  Districts must also consider whether a student who usually doesn’t need transportation may need it due to inclement weather.  A student’s specialized transportation needs come first and override contrary transportation policies and practices, even if pursuant to state law or local policies.