School Bus Driver Shortage Has a Deep Impact on Students with Disabilities

September 21, 2021

Labor Shortages

New Jersey and the nation are experiencing broad workforce challenges across industries, which is directly impacting school districts and their ability to transport their students to and from school.

Schools normally contract with transportation companies to that supply drivers, schedulers, mechanics, and dispatchers. Those workers interact with school liaisons who ensure the school fulfills its responsibility to transport its students safely, efficiently, and without incident.

Issues with student transportation sometimes emerge at the beginning of typical school years – and the 2021 school year is far from typical. Between the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and staff shortages, a number of problems have revealed themselves. Routes have been delayed, stops have been missed, and some schools have even elected to shorten their school day for some cohorts, allowing the school to stagger dismissal times to help them stretch fewer buses over a greater number of children.

A Difficult Choice

Unfortunately, though transportation companies’ inability to hire enough workers affects all students, it is having an especially deep impact on students with disabilities. When faced with the choice of whether to send a bus on a route that serves 100 students or to arrange for a limited-time travel route for one student with disabilities, some schools may elect to maximize the number of students they bus to school and tell the other student’s family that there is no other transportation option.

That choice can leave parents of students with disabilities between a rock and a hard place. Transportation is a related service that can be written into a child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), and can include accommodations like guaranteeing that student a bus monitor or limited time travel. A parent who is told that there is no special education transportation available might be forced either to find a way to transport their child to school on their own or compromise and accept fewer services than they are entitled under their child’s current IEP.

Parents’ Options

Nevertheless, even in light of the pandemic and transportation companies’ difficulties hiring and retaining workers, schools’ obligations to students with disabilities remains unchanged under federal and state law. Parents whose children require transportation will want to ensure that transportation is written into the IEP as a related service. If it is included as a related service, the school district must provide transportation services as stated in the New Jersey Administrative Code.

If transportation is included in the IEP as a related service and the school is not implementing the IEP properly, parents may want to discuss other alternatives with the child study team. Those alternatives can include restructuring the school bus route to ensure the student with disabilities is the last picked up and the first dropped off. If a parent elects to drive their child due to the failure of their public school to provide appropriate transportation, they may be entitled to reimbursement.

It’s often helpful to get the agreed-upon solution in writing. If it’s discussed in person – or during an IEP meeting – a parent might want to follow up with an email to all who were in attendance, confirming and memorializing the new plan.

If parents discuss their issues and a dispute still exists over a school’s failure to include transportation in the IEP, or to properly implement transportation as a related service, a parent can use the special education dispute resolution system to try to resolve their issue. If that’s intimidating, parents can also try to work with a non-attorney advocate or a special education lawyer to resolve the dispute.

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To learn more about this issue – or to get help finding an advocate or a lawyer – call Autism New Jersey’s Helpline, 800.4.AUTISM, email, or use the Live Chat feature at the bottom of this page.