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IDEA Hits the Road: First Impressions of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (Part 1)

Editor’s note: Utilizing a Question and Answer format, Dr. Linda Bluth of the Maryland Dept. of Education begins a two-part series to clarity the effect to pupil transportation of the newly issued final regulations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997. In part one she discusses related service, discipline, behavior, alternative educational settings, and expulsion from the school bus. In part two she will address other aspects of the law including requirements for transportation personnel to attend Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings and be familiar with IEP content and the need for more personnel training for supervisor, drivers, and monitors.

On March 12, 1999, the final regulations for implementing the IDEA 97 were published in the Federal Register. The purpose of these regulations is to provide guidance in meeting the requirements set forth in the Statute. Not surprisingly, the Statute is long and complex and the regulations are intricate. In this article, I’ll give a brief synopsis of the Statute and present several transportation aspects of the regulations in a question and answer format. One thing is for sure, case law and further guidance from the Department of Education will be necessary to resolve some differences of interpretation. With that said, let’s take a look at IDEA 97.

QUESTION: How is the related service transportation defined in the final regulations, and is there a significant difference in the definition from previous regulations?

ANSWER: In the final regulations, transportation is defined as: 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 (§300.24 (15)”). There is no significant difference in this definition from previous IDEA regulations. However, it does not mean there are no additional responsibilities. The inclusion of Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD) under the Other Health Impaired category may require additional transportation services, such as curbside pick-up and monitoring on the school bus.

QUESTION: Does participating in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities with non-disabled peers include transportation?

ANSWER: Yes. It is reasonable to include transportation among the extracurricular and nonacademic activities if deemed appropriate by their Individualized Education Program (IEP) team. Transportation has been recognized as an opportunity in which students with disabilities can participate with their non-disabled peers. There is extensive case law supporting that it is not acceptable to segregate students with disabilities solely based upon their disability condition or category. In addition, IDEA regulations require that there be a “statement” of the related services and supplementary aids and services including program modifications or supports that will be provided for a child to be served in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Therefore, it is reasonable to expect before a group of children are placed on a bus solely for students with disabilities that the necessary program modifications permitting this student to ride with his or her peers are addressed.

QUESTION: Do the IDEA regulations address discipline?

ANSWER: Yes. Discipline is addressed in a more comprehensive manner than previously. The following information is a summary of key points that transportation decision-makers need to be aware of:

  • If a student’s behavior has a negative impact on their ability to benefit from special education and related services, the IEP team is required to conduct a behavioral assessment and develop a behavioral plan.
  • If a student is suspended for more than 10 school days in a school year, the IEP team is responsible for reviewing the student’s behavioral plan and revising it as appropriate.
  • School personnel can remove a student with a disability for up to 10 school days in a school year (if that is the rule for non-disabled students) for any violation of school rules as long as there is not a pattern of removals.
  • If a student’s behavior problems are ongoing and directly related to the students disability, he/she cannot be permanently suspended or expelled for a behavior which is described as a manifestation (result) of the student’s disability.
  • If a student brings a dangerous weapon or drugs to school or a school function, school personnel may place a student in an interim alternative educational setting (IAES) for up to 45 days.
  • If a student with a disability demonstrates behavior that is a serious threat to others, school district officials may seek to obtain a court order to remove the student. However, the school district is still required to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
  • It is reasonable to conclude any of the above situations apply to the school bus in the same manner as they do to the school building.

It is important to note neither the statute nor the final regulations impose absolute limits on the number of days a child can be removed from his or her current placement in a school year. Limits do exist in the regulations with respect to what constitutes a change in placement. A change in placement is anything beyond 10 school days unless both the parents and school district mutually agree otherwise. However, parents must be fully informed of their due process rights regarding a change in placement. Not providing transportation services under any of the above circumstances can be considered a change in placement if a student cannot access his or her special education and related services.

QUESTION: If a student’s behavior is an continuing problem on the school bus can he/she be suspended or expelled permanently from the bus if transportation is not on the IEP?

ANSWER: No. A student cannot be permanently suspended or expelled from school bus transportation. However, if the student is unable to ride the school bus in an acceptable manner, an IEP meeting should be held for the purpose of discussing what interventions may be required for the student to ride on the bus. The student with a disability who does not have transportation noted on their IEP must still be afforded the opportunity to access their special education and related services. All of the appropriate team members (parents, transportation personnel, psychologists, etc.) should be invited to attend the IEP meeting.

QUESTION: If a student is placed in an interim alternative educational setting (IAES) for inappropriate behavior for up to 45 days must the district provide transportation to the IAES?

ANSWER: This is one area that may directly impose the requirement for additional transportation services, including transporting at times services were not previously required. Re-routing, travel distance and riding time may all contribute to additional expenditures for a transportation department to implement a student’s IAES. Therefore it is important that IAES program locations be carefully planned for in a joint effort between special education officials and transportation administrators.

QUESTION: Can a student with a disability be permanently removed from the bus if it is determined that behavior such as fighting and cursing is a manifestation of his or her disability?

ANSWER: No. As noted above, a student cannot be permanently removed from the bus if it is determined that the behavior is a manifestation of his or her disability. Even when the behavior is not a manifestation of the student’s disability, the student is still entitled to receive special education and related services. This is another reason why it is essential that transportation personnel receive ongoing training and support from school personnel with expertise in behavior management to manage to assist with the requirement to transport difficult students.

Dr. Linda F. Bluth is the branch chief of Community Interagency Services with the Maryland Department of Education’s Division of Special Education. She is a nationally recognized expert in special needs transportation. She can be reached at Lbluth@aol.com.

 

 

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