Bus transportation for special needs students in a pandemic
The safe return to school for students with special needs may require modifications in related service transportation that were not required prior to COVID-19, as notes the Student Transportation Aligned for Return to School (STARTS) Task Force report, developed by national school transportation leaders and published in July. The report includes 18 guidelines specific to transportation for students with disabilities. The guidelines cover topics such as:
• Masks. The required use of masks by students with special needs should be considered on a case-by-case basis after district personnel are informed about the capacity of each individual student to wear a mask, the guideline states. Excluding a student from transportation solely because of the inability to wear a mask would likely be a violation of the IDEA and Section 504 provision of students being assured a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
• Social distancing. Students not capable of following social distancing and “no touching” requirements is also not an acceptable reason to deny FAPE, the report states. A recommendation is to create age-appropriate travel training support to be shared with families. An alternative transportation option can be discussed and offered at no cost to parents.
• Hand sanitizers. Because some students with disabilities may put their fingers into their mouth, try to lick off a sanitizer or have an allergic response to one, prior parent knowledge and approval is required is sanitizers are going to be used before entry to a bus or while on a bus.
• Ventilation. Measures such as opening windows require careful planning and may not be reasonable on buses where students have certain respiratory conditions with breathing difficulties that are triggered by fumes, temperature changes, dust or other factors.
• Ability to comply with procedures. Some students with disabilities are unable to understand or follow new transportation policies and procedures developed in response to COVID. Drivers and attendants must understand individual student needs to work effectively with them and make necessary adaptations for safe transport. Students with limited capacity to comply should have a contingency and support plan developed by their team.
The STARTS report and related tools can be accessed here, with the Special Education Guideline Addendum beginning on page 23.
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