FRISCO, Texas — Having introduced the dilemma of “What’s So Good About Compliance” some years ago, here I am at TSD Conference blogging about sessions that explore compliance issues in special needs transportation.
Take a look at the schedule of workshops: There’s an inordinate number of compliance-related sessions. Apparently there is, in fact, something good about compliance (I knew that; my title was, of course, tongue-in-cheek), and TSD is the venue to learn about it.
Attorney Monica Velazquez talked about defeating “Unlawful Harassment Creating a ‘No’ Culture” in the workplace. She distinguished a harasser (covered by federal and, often, state laws) from “just a jerk,” from which co-workers are not protected by federal law. The key for employers: When you know about harassment, take action. In the 21st century, social media and technological venues often provide a context for harassment. She cautioned employers and employees to beware of texting. Eliminating harassment takes time – the wise employers will work consistently to end it and restore a culture of professionalism and respect. Be alert to four necessary steps: (1) Have the right policies; (2) Have the right people; (3) Have the right training; and (4) Follow-up appropriately after investigation.
Pauline Gervais, a fellow Tenured Faculty member and the retired executive director of pupil transportation for Denver Public Schools, presented “Foundation of Special Needs Transportation.” Several federal laws provide a framework for compliance, and the wise transporter must be aware of Section 504, Head Start Part F, the newly revised McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, and IDEA and its regulations. Focusing on IDEA, Gervais explained that school districts must provide transportation to students who require it based on their a disability and resulting Individual Education Program (IEP) to and from school and between schools, in and around school buildings, and provide any necessary specialized equipment.
Compliance requires no less than annual review of IEPs. So, essential is compliance with IDEA’s mandates that training must cover a number of areas, including but not limited to behavior management, service animals that ride with students, confidentiality, and others. The Least Restrictive Environment mandate applies, and students must ride like and with their non-disabled peers to the extent appropriate. The key to basic and essential compliance in transporting students with disabilities is a recognition and understanding of the need to provide service based on the individualized needs of the student. And the need for special consideration extends at both ends of the ride – when a student can’t be left alone at school, he may not be left unattended at the stop or home.
“Serving Students with Service Animals,” presented by Vinh Nguyen of the Southwest ADA Center emphasized that school districts can ask only two questions when a student seeks to be accompanied by a service animal: Has the animal been trained to provide a service to the student, and is the animal under the student’s control? Compliance with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) does not extend to animals that only provide emotional support. Nevertheless, compliance requires minimal inquiry and full accommodation when the animal is a true service worker for a student. In the workplace, policies and protocols should include reasonable accommodation and documentation.
Peggy A. Burns is Tenured Faculty, Emeritus of the TSD Conference as well as former school district in-house counsel, editor of Legal Routes, and a consultant on student transportation compliance issues. She has written numerous articles for School Transportation News and is a past contributing editor of the magazine.