Don’t Make a Legal Wrong Turn: Requirements of Door-to-Door Transportation

Whether or not door-to-door transportation is needed for a student with disabilities is an IEP team-based decision. To determine whether this type of transportation is required under the IDEA, courts have considered factors including the student’s needs, age, the nature of the student’s disability, the condition of the route to be traveled to the bus stop, the availability of public assistance when the student walks that route, and the student’s ability to safely access transportation to and from school in the way other students in a district access transportation. As is the case with most special education decisions, a bright-line rule regarding transportation does not exist. Rather, the decision whether a student requires door-to-door transportation will invariably be a case-by-case analysis that is specific to the student’s needs.

Location of Pickup

The term “door-to-door” transportation seems to contemplate a home pickup and delivery as opposed to a bus-stop or “station” assignment, but still provides no real indication as to what precise location at the home the transportation should meet the student – the curb, the driveway, or the front door itself. Cases have found that school districts are not required to cross the threshold and enter the interior of the home to retrieve and deliver the student. (see Independent School District, 17 IDELR 21 (SEA MN 1990) [school district was not obligated to provide an aide to carry a non-ambulatory child inside her home and up a flight of stairs]; and New York City School District, 508 IDELR 282 (SEA NY 1986) [school personnel were not required to go inside the apartment building where a student with an orthopedic impairment lived].) Generally, however, if the student’s IEP calls for door-to-door transportation, the district will be expected to provide transportation to and from the street location closest to student’s doorstep.

Dirt Roads

Dirt roads are tricky and can be legally treacherous — no pun intended. Whether special transportation must be provided in these circumstances and in what manner generally turns on whether it is dangerous or cumbersome for the student to walk to the bus stop over the dirt road. Along with the factors mentioned above, other factors the courts have considered in this category specifically include: the length of the road, condition of the road, mobility of the student, and whether the student can recognize danger.

In one California decision, the judge ruled that door-to-door transportation was a necessary related service for a student with an intellectual disability. In this case, the school bus was required to travel down a rough and rocky dirt road to pick up the student, who was unable to walk down the road to his bus stop because of his developmental disability. The judge based this decision on the fact that the student was not able to appreciate the dangers he might encounter at the bus stop. (Fort Sage Unified School District/Lassen County Office of Education, 23 IDELR 1078 (SEA CA 1995))

The federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has recognized that where the condition of the road precluded the bus from reaching the student's home, alternative means could be used. Specifically, the district could satisfy its door-to-door obligation by having the school bus stop at an intersection near the dirt road where the student lived and having the adult aide walk with the student between the bus stop and home. Shasta County (CA) Office of Education, 16 IDELR 1206 (OCR 1990)

Door-to-Door Transportation Not Required

Not every situation requires door-to-door transportation to meet a student’s unique needs. Particularly, the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) has found that a student’s young age does not automatically qualify him/her to receive this type of transportation service. In one such case, the student was six years old and presented with a speech and language deficit. The parents argued that the student should be provided door-to-door transportation due to the child’s young age and the fact that the child had limited hazard awareness. The district asserted there was no unique need for any special education transportation, as the child was capable of riding on the regular school bus and walking from the bus at the regular bus stop to her grandparents' house. Here, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) noted that no one expects any young child to safely walk to school on their own and that any lack of hazard awareness is typical for children of his age group. Thus, the ALJ concluded that the student’s deficits were not so severe as to require door-to-door transportation to meet his unique needs and denied the parent’s request for door-to-door transportation. Pajaro Valley Unified School District, SEHO Case No. SN03-01877 (December 18, 2003)

Similarly, in another OAH case, the parents of an eight-year-old autistic student argued that the district’s failure to offer door-to-door transportation denied him a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). In this case, the district did not provide transportation for general education children who live in the same area and, therefore, did not offer any transportation services for the student. The ALJ found that although the student presented with mild autistic-like behaviors, the student was not found to have any physical disability, cognitive deficits and/or health or safety needs to require transportation as a related service. Therefore, the district was not required to provide door-to-door transportation as a related service. Jurupa Unified School District, 113 LRP 28078 (SEA CA 2013)

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