The origin of disability rights in the United States traces back to the "equal protection" clause of the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution. It was a long time though until Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, when Congress began to define and codify these rights into federal law. Section 504 specifically prohibits discrimination against individuals with handicaps by any government program or activity that receives Federal funds.
Two years later, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 was enacted. It introduced two new acronyms to school transportation. FAPE or free appropriate public education requires a variety of special education and related services. Transportation to-and-from school was defined as one of the related services. LRE or least restrictive environment requires that students with disabilities be educated with their non-handicapped peers.
Listed here users will find a brief overview of the federal laws with links that have come to describe disability rights in the transportation environment. Also listed here is a link to the McKinney-Vento Act that grants educational protection to children who become homeless.
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the cornerstone of disability rights. It declares that a state may not "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." This phrase has been interpreted to mean that children with disabilities have equal protection of access to school bus transportation. This constitutional right has been incorporated into the foundation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The Head Start Act Public Law 97-35 (42 USC 9801)
The Head Start program was initiated as a Great Society program in 1965. Its objective is to serve as a comprehensive child development program primarily for three-to-five year-old low-income children and their families. It seeks to encourage the development of special programs by which the residents of urban and rural low-income areas may, through self-help and mobilization of the community at large, with appropriate Federal assistance, improve the quality of their economic and social participation in community life in such a way as to contribute to the elimination of poverty and the establishment of permanent economic and social benefits. In recent years Head Start was expanded to provide services to infants and toddlers and children with disabilities. The Head Start program requires the participation of parents in the administration of the program, of the children enrolled in the program.
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 (Public Law 93-112)
This was the first federal law to codify the rights of the disabled. It specifically prohibits discrimination against individuals with handicaps by any government program or activity that receives Federal funds. The key phrase in Section 504 declares, in part: "No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States shall, solely by reason of his (or her) handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance". For nearly three decades, Section 504 has been the basis for lawsuits and other legal actions over disputes such as length of ride, reimbursing parents for transportation costs, etc. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) within the U.S. Dept. of Education is responsible for enforcing Section 504.
Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (Public Law 94-142)
This 1975 law introduced a new acronym about disability rights to the American lexicon: FAPE. The acronym stands for "free appropriate public education" and outlines a variety of special education and related services that must be provided to all handicapped children. Specifically it includes special education and related services. Transportation is one of the related services the regulation defines. Moreover, the law proscribes three fundamental objectives: 1) It outlines procedures for the identification and evaluation of handicapped children; 2) it requires that children with handicaps be educated with their non-handicapped peers to the maximum extent possible in the Least Restrictive Environment, commonly referred to as LRE; 3) it proscribes a series of procedural safeguards to ensure that parents participate in the development of an individual education program (IEP) for their child. The law, referred to as EHA, also provides federal funding to help states bear the additional costs of educating handicapped children.
Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1986
(Public Law 99-372, AKA The Handicapped Infants and Toddlers Program)
This law amends the Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975 by authorizing the awarding of "reasonable attorneys' fees" to parents who prevail in due process hearings and judicial proceedings. As a consequence of this law school districts often require the Transportation and Special Education departments to work together to avoid costly legal settlements over procedural matters.
Handicapped Infants and Toddlers Program (Public Law 99-457)
Part H of the EHA was amended in 1986 to provide financial assistance for the creation and funding of comprehensive, state-wide interagency service programs for early intervention services for children with handicaps from birth through two years old. The law requires that these services be outlined in an Individualized Family Service Plan. Transportation is among the early intervention services recognized. As a result, transporters were faced with a series of new issues such as supervision, the use of school buses designed for older children, etc.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-336)
The Americans with Disabilities Act gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, State and local government services, and telecommunications. While the ADA exempts school buses from some of its requirements it does not exempt access to transportation services for infants, toddlers and pre-school children.
Individuals With Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-476)
Part B of this law renamed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and changed all previous references to "handicapped children" to "children with disabilities." Moreover it added two new categories of disabilities, autism and traumatic brain injury, and expanded the definition of the terms "assistive technology device" and "assistive technology service."
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1991
(Public Law 102-119)
These amendments require participating states to coordinate the range of services and funding they provide for early intervention services to infants and toddlers with disabilities from birth through two years of age. These amendments also reauthorized The Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1986, and renamed them as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1991.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (Public Law 105-17)
These 1997 amendments reauthorized P.L. 99-457, changing the name to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1991. These amendments require states to coordinate service and funding sources to provide early intervention services to infants and toddlers from birth through age two. Early intervention transportation is defined in the regulations.
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
A federal law that protects the privacy of student education records and applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children's education records.
The Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act of 2004
Federal law that ensures all children with disabilities have access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). It requires schools to provide transportation to students with disabilities who are determined eligible. IDEA requires each student with disabilities to have an Individualized Education Program that outlines the special education services they are to receive to enable them to FAPE. Students eligible for these services age 16 and over can also receive transition services to prepare them for employment, post-secondary education and independent living skills, per their IEP team. This sometimes requires service that must occur outside of the school setting during normal school hours. This can mean additional transportation services are necessary. There are two sections to IDEA:
- Part B for students ages 3 to 21
- Part C for birth to age 2
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act
The primary piece of federal legislation dealing with the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness in U.S. public schools. It was reauthorized as Title X, Part C, of the No Child Left Behind Act in January 2002.
The term "homeless children and youths:"
(A) means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence (within the meaning of section 103(a)(1)); and
(i) children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement;
(ii) children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings (within the meaning of section 103(a)(2)(C));
(iii) children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and
(iv) migratory children (as such term is defined in section 1309 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965) who qualify as homeless for the purposes of this subtitle because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii).