Not surprisingly, in many states — 14 to be exact — the yellow school bus remains the only allowable transportation mode for transporting all students to and from school. But then things get complicated.
That is the main takeaway from a national survey released Thursday by the National Association for State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. The objective was to detail which vehicle(s) each state allows, or does not allow, for home-to-school transportation as well as for curricular-related trips and noncurricular- or activity-related trips. Charlie Hood, executive director of NASDPTS, said the survey came about at the request of Illinois state director Mike Slife. The Illinois State Board of Education sought more information from other states on how to specify vehicles for different types of student transportation following an inquiry from a private school.
For the most part, all 40 NASDPTS survey respondents said their state regulations specify that yellow school buses be used for all student transportation, regardless of the type of trip. Only Oklahoma does not specify a school bus for non-curriculum related trips, such as those between school campuses so students can attend educational or therapeutic programs. Instead, the Sooner State simply specifies in its regulation a vehicle designed to transport more than 10 passengers.
Meanwhile, passenger cars driven by family members were cited as allowable vehicles for the home-to-school commute by 23 states, for curriculum-related trips in 26 states and for activity trips in 30 states. Hood said the survey did not attempt to assess allowable use of different vehicle types by private individuals, such as parents, who are not operating their vehicles under the authority of a school or school district.
In 17 states, public transit buses are allowed to ferry students to and from school, while 12 states reported that they allow transit buses for curricular-related trips as well as for activity trips.
While it was also not a surprise that many states allow vehicles besides the school bus to transport students on various types of trips, it was eye-opening to learn that several states allow non-conforming vans. Five states — Arizona, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Nebraska and Wisconsin — allow full-size vans to transport students to and from school.
Hood said it was unclear whether some of theses states simply defer to the provisions of federal law that prohibit them, instead of specifically prohibiting them in state regulations. He added that the federal highway bill SAFETEA-LU enacted in 2005 prohibits schools from utilizing new or leased full-size vans for student transportation.
Additionally, 9 states said they allow vans for transporting students between educational programs and 10 for activity trips.
Arizona, Oregon, South Carolina and Wisconsin permit school transportation via “activity buses” — essentially, school buses that meet all federal requirements for flashing loading and unloading lights and stop arms that are painted white rather than yellow. Eighteen states allow activity buses for curriculum-related trips and 20 for non-curricular field or activity trips.
Arizona and Oregon join Michigan in allowing school districts to use Multifunction School Activity Buses that meet all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Requirements for school buses, with the exception of flashing loading and unloading lights and stop arms. In all, 19 states allow MFSABs for curriculum-related trips, and 22 for non-curricular field or activity trips.
Airport-type shuttle buses (Arizona, Iowa and Wisconsin) and motorcoaches (Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin) were also cited as being allowable vehicles for home-to-school student transportation.
Sgt. Lee Bradshaw at the Arizona Department of Public Safety said school buses are recommended for all student transportation, but he added that the state Attorney General allows school districts to utilize other vehicles.
And Lt. Karl Middlestat of the Wisconsin State Patrol said that while school districts may use any vehicle for home-to-school transportation, only school buses may perform road pick ups or drop offs.