Parent Tips: Riding a Special Needs Bus

School bus on blacktop with clean sunny background

What parents can do to help ensure students are safe

By Howard County Autism Society

The IEP team has decided that your student qualifies for special needs transportation to and from home and school. Now what? Your student’s bus ride can set the tone for her school day and help with the transition from school to home or after-school activities. With so much at stake, how can parents help ensure students are safe and secure while riding the school bus?

First, understand your student’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Under IDEA, transportation is considered a related service that includes travel to and from school and between schools, travel in and around school buildings, and specialized equipment (such as special or adapted buses, lifts, and ramps) if required. All children with disabilities are not eligible for this related service. Determination is made on a case-by-case basis by the individualized education program (IEP) team, including the parent, and should be based upon the unique needs of the individual child. For more information, consult the Maryland State Department of Education Technical Assistance Bulletin, Frequently Asked Questions about Transportation of Children with Disabilities.

What basic services can parents expect when a student rides a special needs bus?

Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) students who receive special transportation can expect curb to curb transportation. Students are picked up at their home address or daycare setting and driven to school. After school, students can ride the bus to their home address or after-school setting. Students are allowed extra time to board the bus, approximately two to three minutes. Parents can expect that their child will only be dropped off if a parent or caregiver is present. Every special needs bus has a driver and attendant for safety, support, and engagement.

In addition to meeting state of Maryland laws for screenings, tests, licenses, and certifications, bus drivers and attendants are expected to be professional, courteous, and safe. They are expected to follow a designated route and stay on schedule, allowing for minor time adjustments. Bus attendants are there to assist students in the event of an emergency evacuation. All special needs school buses in HCPSS are equipped with seatbelts.

What if a student needs extra supports on the school bus?

The least restrictive environment (LRE) applies to decisions regarding transportation of students with disabilities. However, the IEP team can decide that a student requires a specialized service or support on the special needs bus, such as a special safety belt or an aide in addition to the bus attendant. When this decision is made, the IEP case manager submits a request to the HCPSS transportation office.

How are transportation services delivered in Howard County?

HCPSS has 468 buses that travel over 30,000 miles each day. Approximately 40,000 students receive general transportation and approximately 2,000 students are eligible for specialized services. Transportation services are provided to more than 100 public and non-public schools in Howard County and surrounding counties. All school bus services are outsourced to private bus companies.

Good communication between the home, bus driver, and school is key.

Once the school sends your student’s information to the HCPSS Transportation Office, transportation assigns your student a bus route. Route sheets are forwarded to the bus contractor for that route. Before school starts, the bus contractor calls parents to introduce themselves and to give you an expected pickup time.

On the first day of school, the driver and attendant take extra time to speak with parents. This is an excellent time for parents to introduce themselves, their child, and exchange contact information. As a parent, you should feel comfortable checking in with bus drivers and attendants at any time to ensure your child is safe. If you have concerns about your child on the bus, keep the driver, attendant, and school informed.

What if a student has a medical emergency on a school bus?

At the beginning of each school year, your student’s school nurse will give bus drivers a list of medical conditions–such as allergies, seizures, or diabetes—of students who ride their bus. The school nurse will speak with the bus driver and attendant to describe how to identify these conditions. To maintain privacy, drivers and attendants are not given the names of who has what conditions. To fully support your child on the bus, parents are encouraged to talk with their bus driver and attendant about specific signs or symptoms your child may exhibit. When a child shows these symptoms, the driver is directed to pull over and call 911. Then, according to the Good Samaritan Law, the attendant can administer treatment such as an EpiPen or another medicine a student carries with them. If you have any questions, speak with the bus driver and attendant as well as your school nurse.

If you’re concerned about your student’s safety on the bus, who do you call?

Students face many of the same opportunities and challenges on the bus as they do at school with one exception: on the bus, students are in a small space in a moving vehicle. If you suspect your student is exposed to inappropriate behavior, including bullying, notify your school principal immediately. Additionally, parents and students can use HCPSS’s secure online form to report bullying. Digital cameras are installed on HCPSS school buses. Camera recordings are not monitored, but they can be accessed to assist in an investigation. If you have any driver safety concerns, call the HCPSS transportation office at 410-313-6732 and ask for your area manager.

Will a substitute driver or attendant know how to support your student?

All drivers and attendants are required to pass the same rigorous trainings and certifications. However, with a nation-wide shortage of bus drivers, a bus company may have to make last-minute adjustments to driver assignments. A substitute driver or attendant may not know your child’s needs and preferences. Talk with the new driver or attendant to let them know how best to support your child. And work with your school team to communicate with new drivers and attendants at dismissal.

Keeping students safe is everyone’s responsibility.

Open communication with your bus and school teams can go a long way in keeping students safe. With a caring, supportive driver and attendant in partnership with home and school, riding the school bus can be a rewarding part of your student’s school day.

When you have HCPSS transportation questions and concerns, contact:

HCPSS Transportation Office, 410-313-6732
IEP Case Manager
School Principal
School Nurse