The Wheels on the Bus: Transportation Under the IDEA

Published on June 29, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano


Transportation for children with special education needs is crucial.  Just think about it:  virtually all kids who do not have disabilities have public transportation available to them to attend school.  NOT having it available for students with special needs blatantly separates those with disabilities from a fundamental aspect of education.  In addition, for many families, if they had to personally transport their children to and from school, they would not be able to hold down a job.  And, of course, many parents do not have cars or driver’s licenses.

In my experience, parents of children with disabilities are routinely being asked to assume the responsibility of transporting their children to school and other services.

It is unfair and discriminatory, but I don’t think a week passes in my Connecticut special education law firm without a negotiation on transportation for one of my clients.  I can’t imagine a school district asking parents of children with regular education programs to get their kids to and from school so regularly.  It might just be one of those areas where we have become accustomed to having to do it, but that doesn’t make it right

The importance of the right to transportation under the IDEA can not be overstated.

If your child has been identified as requiring an IEP, then your school district has determined that he has a disability that requires special education and “related services” under the IDEA.  Related services are those that are “designed to enable a child with a disability to receive a free appropriate public education as described in the IEP of the child…”  The very first “related service” outlined in the federal law is transportation.

Transportation would appear to be the most basic requirement for a child to benefit from their program, and yet, it is a near constant source of dispute between parents and school districts.

The term “transportation” is defined under the IDEA as including “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 special transportation for a child with a disability.”  So, if a child needs to get to school in order to receive the IEP offered by the district, then they need to be transported to that program.

Some children require significant support, such as equipment or an aide on the bus, in order to be transported to and from school.

Too often, I will hear a parent say that, due to their child’s significant behavioral needs related to their disability, they have been told that their child can no longer ride the bus, and that the parents will have to transport.  While I could probably, if pressed, envision a scenario in which that were legally permissible, it would be tough.  Your school district must transport your child to and from school, even if that means arranging for separate transportation.

Remember, if a service is outlined in the IEP, there needs to be some way for the student to get to that service.

As an example, if your child has a related service, like Occupational Therapy, or counselling, written into her IEP, and it takes place at a different location (such as the administrative building or another school in town), then there should be a plan to transport to and from that service.  Same goes for extended school day services, and summer programs.  If it’s in the IEP, transportation is a related service.

You should also check your own State’s laws on transportation, as many offer additional support or requirements in this regard.

As an example, in some states, your school district is required to provide transportation to children who attend private special education programs in the same town in which they reside, even if that placement was made by the parents themselves instead of as part of the IEP.   Many states limit the length of a bus ride by a certain amount of time (such as an hour’s ride), so that you might be able to argue that an out of district program more than an hour’s drive away is inappropriate or illegal.

Transportation also applies to students in early intervention services under the IDEA.

For infants and toddlers under 3 years of age who have been identified for early intervention programs by their State (often called “Birth to Three”) services under IDEA, the term “early intervention services” includes “transportation and related costs that are necessary to enable an infant or toddler and the infant’s or toddler’s family to receive” services.  If your child has an IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan), you should be discussing transportation as part of the plan.

However, as with all other areas of special education, I do encourage parents to pick their battles when it comes to transportation.

The costs associated with special transportation for school districts can be astronomical.  This is especially true for transporting to out of district placements.  Sometimes, the bus costs more than the tuition, and many a settlement agreement has fallen apart over transportation.  Therefore, if you are in a position to transport your child to and from school, this might be an area worth a concession, if you are able to agree on the rest of the services.

However, if you can not drive your child, here’s the bottom line:  if the IEP calls for a service, transportation should be included.

In that case, and as a practical tip, I suggest you make sure the IEP locks down the actual service first, and then ask for transportation.  The cynic in me worries that otherwise, your district might avoid offering the special education service, for fear of having to pay for the bus to get there.

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