Special Education/transportation

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Question
One of our families is accepting a foster student with severe needs.  He is five years old, non verbal, not toilet trained and autistic.  Yes we could hire an aide for him but to really meet his needs I am proposing to send him to a nearby district that has a program in place.  It is 17 miles away and we would reimburse the foster mom for transportation.  However she does not want to drive him to this school.  She wants him to go to a school that is 50 miles away and we would transport him.  Legally, what are my alternatives?

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Hello, Sharon,

Thanks so much for using this service and for reaching out to me for your question about transportation for a 5 year old with Autism.  From what you describe, this child has needs in many areas, including toileting, verbal communication, and you describe his needs as severe.  

I am not sure if you are from the school district, adoption agency or social services, or another organization from your question.  You are asking what your alternatives are for school placement for the child, given that his foster family does not want to transport the child to school by car.  You are saying you could hire an aide for the child, but you feel that there is a program that will meet his needs in a nearby school.  I just want to be sure I have all this straight before I give you my opinion.  And also, this is not a legal opinion since I am not an attorney--if that's OK, let's proceed.  

Here are some guiding questions for your consideration:
1.  Does the child have an Individualized Education Program IEP?  If so, the IEP should state the services, aides, accommodations, setting and amount and type of special education and related services the child needs.  If not, it sounds like you should make the referral for evaluations and get an IEP in place asap.

In your question, you state that you could give the child an aide, but if you are not the school district, then that decision would be made by the IEP team.  It's possible that the school district would accept the funding of an aide by a parent or other agency, but I have run into significant problems with this scenario, including who supervises the aide, who hires the aide, etc.  If this is not a major part of your question, I will move forward, but tell me if you would like me to explain further.  

Also, since transportation is a related service to which the child is entitled, the IEP team would determine the type of transportaton needed.  

Moreover, whether and to what extent the child's needs can be met in the regular or general education classroom or school setting seems to be a major question.  Again, that question is answered by the IEP team in the school district in the form of placement on the IEP, which is guided by the child's evaluations, goals, need for special education in a separate setting, and all parts of the IEP.

2.  OK, now for the trickier question.  Are there multiple school districts involved, who is responsible for writing the IEP , who is responsible for funding the IEP,and who is responsible for monitoring and overseeing the IEP?  

Suppose the child is a ward of the state and the child was residing in school disrict A, but the foster parents live in school district B?

It's my experience that school districts A and B will have to cooperate with one another.  If there is a Guardian Ad Litem, social worker, monitor for the foster placement, judge, and attorneys, it's likely that a special education expert like myself could be useful in overseeing the special education process, to help everyone involved keep good records and be 'on the same page'.  If the child has to move from foster family to foster family, this becomes extra important so that everyone doesn't have to start over if there is a move.  

If school disrict A did develop the IEP already, and now the child is in school district B, then the IEP will either be implemented in B, or B will evaluate the child and revise the IEP for placement.  

If there are not different districts and the IEP is in place, then the foster parent's requests should be considered in the IEP meeting.  If there are not sufficient evaluations to determine the child's needs, then full and complete evaluations should be done as quickly as possible to inform the IEP and guide placement.  

3.  What is the child's least restrictive environment placement?  

Your question indicated to me that you feel there is a program to meet the child's needs 17 miles from the foster family home, but the foster family wants the child to be placed 50 miles from the home in I assume a separate school.  You did not indicate whether the closer school has equal type and nature of special education services.  If the placements are exactly equal except for distance, then it's likely the closer school is the LRE for the child.  But if the closer school is a general education school with an Autism program,and the farther school is a separate special education school with no participation with typical peers, then the analysis has to be done by the IEP team.  If the child cannot benefit from general education and needs a separate setting right now, with specialized interventions, then the farther school can be considered the LRE.  For some kids, the general school setting with a dedicated aide is more restrictive than a special education school, and for others, the opposite may be true . So again, I would go back to the evaluation information, consider this new setting with a new family, and fully discuss the child's needs with the IEP team which will determine placement.  

4.  Is it appopriate for the child to have car transportation, instead of a bus?  What accommodations are needed in either situation and what are the staffing, training, and educational needs of the child on the bus?

I have to say that it is rare that I believe a child should be driven to school by car by a parent.  There would need to be a reason well beyond convenience of the school district for this to occur.  If the child needs individual transportation, which is also very rare, then I would rarely suggest the parents do it.  Transportation should be provided by the school disrict, not just in the form of reimbursing the parents a few cents per mile.  Many foster families have other children or work issues this would affect.  And most of the time in my experience, the child has a harder time adjusting to school settings if parents drive to school.  If sensory or other needs are the issue, the IEP must contain a behvior intervention plan, dedicated staff on the bus, sensory regulation accommodations,seat belts, harnesses, or whatever the child needs to have effective transportation. I have worked in many settings with children with very severe disabilities and this is the case for the vast majority of students.  If the parent must drive the child, I assure there is a plan to fade that out and slowly put into place appropriate district-provided transportation.  Even taking this conversation a step further, a child's inability to ride a bus to and from school can indicate the child needs a different or more restrictive placement.  

Well, I've taken some risks in asking these guiding questions, since I don't know the entirety of the situation, but I sincerely hope that my answers, or more accurately, questions, have helped you in this situation, which sounds pretty complicated.

Lastly I would add that I would recommend that the school district provide as part of the child's IEP 'Parent counseling and training'.  This is a little known related service that is designed to help the parent support the implementation of the IEP and understand the nature of the child's developmental needs.  This service can help build parent school partnerships and can avoid conflicts and confusion down the road.  

If you would like to ask a follow up question, I am glad to take it . Once again, thank you for writing to me, and thank you for using this service at allexperts. com.  

I hope I have helped you as you advocate for this child and I wish everyone involved the best!  

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Special Education

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Michelle R. Davis, M. Ed.

Expertise

I can answer questions about disability definitions and criteria for services, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004, No Child Left Behind, 504 plans, how to craft an IEP that drives the appropriate services, school placement, dispute options, and least restrictive environment. I worked in the public school system as a special educator and am now in private consulting practice where we assist parents as they navigate the special education process. I have expertise in all educational disabilities except blind/visual impairments and deaf/hard of hearing. This includes ADHD and other health impairments, medical conditions, dyslexia and learning disabilities, Autism, emotional disabilities, language processing problems, and interfering behaviors.

Experience

10 years as special educator and administrator in public school system; Director of ABCs for Life Success since 1998; Expert services such as analysis and testimony; Author: Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book: What you can do now to advocate for your exceptional child's education; Special Needs Advocacy Training Institute; internet radio show Teach Your Children Well: Hot Topics in Education; author School Success for Kids with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders released March 2010 (Prufrock Press).

Education/Credentials
Masters in Special Education with Emphasis on Inclusive Education (Johns Hopkins University); B.S.in Special Education (James Madison University); Conduct training for Universities, public and private schools, parent groups. Adjunct professor current George Washington University and prior George Mason University.

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