FRISCO, Texas — Attorney Vickie Coe provided student transporters an in-depth look at the ins and outs of transporting students with special needs.
Coe, who delivered the Nov. 10 morning keynote to attendees at the 2022 Transporting Students with Disabilities and Special Needs Conference, represents Michigan school districts on education law with a focus on special education and school disability law-related matters.
Coe explained that sometimes the law isn’t black and white but instead consists of grey areas in certain situations. She encouraged questions throughout her presentation and discussed the learning objectives, which consisted of understanding federal laws pertaining to transporting students, ensuring policies and procedures are meeting federal requirements and identifying and discussing common compliance issues in order to avoid them.
She broke down the various federal laws relevant to transportation to and from school which include the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, and the Every Student Succeeds Act.
She explained that even if a student lives in a hotel for two years, for example, McKinney-Vento still defines the student as not having a suitable home or permanent placement. Therefore, that student would still require transportation.
Coe’s biggest advice was to increase collaboration between the special education and transportation departments. Make sure that the people who have the need to know, are getting the information that they need, she advised, adding that both departments are trying to do the right things for kids. She added that the federal guidance doesn’t just apply to home-to-school transportation but field trips or extracurricular events as well.
She reminded attendees that students with special needs should be afforded the same access to activities as general education students. Coe went on to discuss hot topics, such as length of bus ride, least restrictive environment, bus removal/suspensions, and confidentially.
Length of Bus Rides
She reminded attendees that students are entitled to the full educational day for optimal learning, meaning that students with special needs cannot leave the day earlier then general education students. Coe told the story of a school district that brought students with special needs to school earlier, and teachers were there to ensure the students educational day started. This ensured that even though the students were leaving earlier, they were still receiving their full educational day. However, she cautioned this idea, as it treats students with disabilities differently and violates federal law.
Coe added that Individualized Education Programs (IEP) or Section 504 Plans are not required to have a length of time that students can stay on the school bus. However, the length of time on the bus should be comparable to nondisabled peers. Many attendee questions resulted from a comment that doctors provide notes to school transportation on how long a student can be on a bus, and if the policy must be followed.
Coe noted that it would depend on the situation and depending on the circumstance the IEP team may choose to adopt what the doctor is saying because the team feels its appropriate, not because the doctor stated it. another attended advised inviting the doctor to the IEP meeting.
Least Restrictive Environment, Bus Removal/Suspensions
Coe noted that to the greatest extent possible, students with disabilities should not be removed from general education practices. She added that kids are not perfect, and not every situation can be controlled.
She also cautioned about removing a student with disabilities from the bus due to disciplinary issues, which can’t be a manifestation of their condition, and asking the parent to transport the child to school and reimbursing for the service. She noted in these circumstances the school districts will usually provide compensation to the parent, but questions still remain as to if the service now constitutes a contract.
What if the parent gets into an accident? Does the parent believe they are now an independent contractor or an employee of the district? Who takes on the liability? Coe suggested if school districts are using this method of transportation, the districts need to draft up a contractual agreement with the parent that includes legal language which spells out these questions and more.
When transportation departments create documentation, Coe cautioned that the information, suchs as school bus video, could also become an educational record. Coe said, parents should have access to the information if they request it, but she noted that the requirement does not require a copy be made and provided.