Special education costs in K12 schools are rising significantly across the nation. For example, in Massachusetts the districts in Saugus and Lynn are projected to increase spending more than $1 million next year. Escalating energy charges and resulting transportation costs are primary causes for the budget hikes, especially since Massachusetts requires schools to educate disabled students from ages 3 to 22. In addition, schools are required to transport special needs students to outside placements if their needs cannot be met within the districts. And while districts in states including California are instituting bus fees and asking more students to walk to school to cope with out-of-control budgets, this is not possible for special education students, who have legally protected transportation rights that districts must address.
While school administrators are generally familiar with educational responsibilities under federal law to serve students with disabilities, they may be less aware of legal requirements to these same students regarding transportation to and from school. Compliance deficiencies in this area can leave special needs students underserved and render districts vulnerable to costly litigation. The following is a summary of legal obligations, potential policy pitfalls, and practical ways that districts can comply with the laws.
The two major laws governing the transportation of special needs students are the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The following are the pertinent provisions.