Transportation Costs of Special Education

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

Kids on School Bus --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Kids on School Bus — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

When the federal government passed legislation for IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – Public Law 94-142) they knew they were laying the groundwork for an enormous sea change in the way schools would manage their special education services. They could not have accurately estimated the enormous bureaucracy and costs to school districts that would follow.

The law consists of four parts:

  • Part A lays out the basic foundation for the rest of the act
  • Part B lays out the educational guidelines for school children 3-21 years of age
  • Part C recognizes the need for identifying and reaching very young children with disabilities
  • Part D describes national activities to be undertaken to improve the education of children with disabilities

The devil is in the details, and IDEA Part B Regulations: 34 CFR 300.16(b)(14) is where the details live. For example, transportation 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… for a student with a disability.” The IEP must include the type of vehicle, specific equipment, circumstances under which transportation will be provided, pick-up and drop-off points, personnel who will be involved and goals and objectives for the transportation.”1

The costs of preparing for and providing transportation to special education children grow every year. In Buffalo, NY when I was a young SPED teacher, students called the little yellow buses for SPED kids “The Cheese.” It’s a reference, of course, to the color of the buses—identical to Velveeta. It was a pejorative term and many older children avoided using the buses at all costs to avoid stigma.

Each bus is specially equipped with lifts and other seat alterations to accommodate wheelchairs and other equipment required for student safety. Then there are the specialized vans. As medical science improves the outcomes of early term pregnancies, enrollment of children with complex medical conditions who attend regular public schools increases. In schools, we see children with breathing tubes and other elaborate medical support devices in special classrooms all in the interest of providing education in the “least restrictive environment,” as required by law.empty school bus

The part that gets expensive is one that has been challenged in court on many occasions. Let’s say a student living in Smallville has an extremely complicated medical condition that requires medical care 24/7 that the school district cannot provide on its own. The town must pay the costs of transporting the child to a town that does. I can recall cases where students were transported 30-40 miles each way to facilities with specialized support for complex situations. Therefore, the student is on the bus much of the day, which may require a specially trained aide to attend at all times. It’s hugely expensive and sets up a situation where districts must decide whether to provide the transportation or create a facility that supports those special needs.

In recent years, Massachusetts districts spent on average six percent of their total operating expenditures and 33 percent of their total special education expenditures on out-of-district special education placements. The average outplacement cost for private day programs is just under $51,000 per year, and for public programs in collaboratives the cost is just under $32,000 per year.2

Private residential programs cost an average of $105,000 per year. Districts spend more for transportation to private day schools, at roughly $9,600 per pupil per year on average. These costs are rising. States are stepping up to help districts support the costs by creating Circuit Breaker funds, but I have to wonder if the system is sustainable. 

Tough decisions need to be made at IEP meetings, and districts are placed in an awkward situation, looking like a bad guy if they don’t provide elaborate services for these children. The children are ours and we can’t turn our backs, but we all face challenges coming up with solutions.

Resources for your consideration:

Let me know how your school or district manages transportation costs.

1 Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, http://www.spannj.org/publications/transportation_pub.htm

2 Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, March 2009. Office of Strategic Planning, Research, and Evaluation


Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Safeway Foundation

Description: The Safeway Foundation supports nonprofit organizations whose mission is aligned with our four priority areas: Hunger Relief, Education, Health and Human Services and Assisting People with Disabilities.

Program Areas: After-School, Arts, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, General Education, Health/PE, Homeless, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug-Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Technology

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Average Amount: $2,500.00 – $10,000.00

Address: 5918 Stoneridge Mall Road Pleasanton, CA 94588

Email: Christy.Duncan-Anderson@safeway.com

Website: Safeway Foundation

Availability: All States​

Allergies and the Special Ed Classroom

In recent years we’ve learned a great deal more about allergies and the effects they can have on student learning. Absenteeism, hospitalizations for anaphylaxis and medication dispensing in the classroom are just some of the factors that are impacting student learning and the management of health issues for students in special education classrooms.

boy nose tissueWe don’t usually think of children suffering from allergies or asthma as children with special needs, but they certainly are. Children with these conditions are probably the most frequently encountered category of special needs, and statistics support the notion that allergies are on the rise. According to a 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. Food allergies result in more than 300,000 ambulatory-care visits a year among children under the age of 18.

The most common allergy symptoms are:

  • Runny nose and sneezing
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Hives on skin
  • Asthma-like reactions

The category of allergy receiving the most attention these days is food allergies. About 3 million children experience adverse reactions to something they eat every year in the United States. The most common food allergies are to:

  • Peanuts and other nuts
  • Seafood or shellfish
  • Milk and prepared foods containing milk products
  • Eggs
  • Soy, wheat and other grains like buckwheat

The symptoms of the allergic response vary as listed above. Students with allergies must:

  • Avoid the allergen
  • Carry medication called an EpiPen® (looks like a pen) containing injectable epinephrine
  • Wear an updated alert bracelet
  • Visit the school nurse for medication or to assess any new reactions
  • Be isolated from potential allergens during lunch to avoid reactions
  • Have alternative snacks on hand for classroom celebrations

Other allergens in special education classrooms may be related to paints, chalk and other art supplies. There are, of course, school supplies that are designed to be allergen free. Some schools develop policies to help monitor different allergens for those children with food allergies and subsequently provide protection from anaphylaxis. Large school districts are studying the possibility of establishing schools where students with allergies can be monitored and treated.

An allergen is a substance that causes an allergic reaction. When a person is exposed to an allergen such as peanuts, the person’s immune system becomes sensitive to the substance. When the person eats peanuts again, a reaction may occur. Anaphylaxis develops quickly, it is severe and it involves the entire body. The body releases histamines that cause airways to close which leads to a shortness of breath and other symptoms.

Symptoms develop within seconds and may include:

  • Gasping breathing sounds (wheezing) with chest discomfort, sometimes a cough
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing, the feeling of chest tightening
  • Light-headedness
  • Hives
  • Severe itching

Anaphylaxis is a life threatening emergency condition that requires immediate medical attention. Call 911 right away.

In the beginning of the year, if you are sending out informational materials, you might want to send a survey for health care that parents can answer to provide more detail about any allergies their child might have. Be sure you have a prescribed EpiPen® available for all of your allergic children. Make sure they are filled and current. There is an expiration date on the package, and you may want to make a spreadsheet that lists those students and expiration dates close at hand so you can have them refilled as necessary. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (that’s what I hear).

If you have any stories about allergies and your students let me know. I’d be happy to share them with our readers.


Grant Name: Let’s ALL Play Partnership

Funded By: National Inclusion Project

Description:  Let’s ALL Play brings an inclusive recreational experience to children with disabilities. As a national leader in the movement toward full inclusion, the National Inclusion Project is proud to partner with community organizations that are seeking to programmatically open doors for ALL children to learn, live, and play together. Through training, consulting, and funding, the Project will meet organizations where they are and help them to implement quality programs that impact children and families in their communities.

Program Areas: Disabilities

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline:  7/31/2015

Average Amount:  $10,000.00

Address: 104 T.W. Alexander Dr, Bldg 1, PO Box 110104 RTP, NC 27709

Email: aronhall@inclusionprojects.org

Website: National Inclusion Project

Availability:  All States

SPED Teacher Burnout: Is it Happening to You?

Teaching can be a lonely job. That sounds counter-intuitive, as others surround you all day. For the most part, though, you’re in your classroom alone as ruler of the roost. If you’re lucky, you may have an aide, but your aide may not be the helper you need. Managing aides can be a full-time job itself (I’ll cover that issue in another article). We don’t like to talk about burnout for fear that it makes us appear out of control.

male teacher helpAfter some months in the classroom with a class load that can exceed what the law recommends, you start to feel frustrated. You’ve reported that you are out of compliance with your numbers, but no one seems to listen. Your administrators acknowledge your problem, but “budgets,” or “it’s only temporary,” are the responses you get to repeated alarms.

You stay late every night, reviewing student work or staying abreast of IEPs and reports from team meetings. You are a dedicated professional, but there’s a nagging feeling that you’re not happy in your job. Maybe it is not so nagging—maybe it’s shrieking.

Every teacher feels frustrated from time to time. Special Ed teachers are often responsible for medical issues with their students too. This is a huge responsibility. The students we see in our classrooms seem to have more and more complex issues as the years go by. This is not your imagination; it’s true. As medical science becomes more sophisticated, more premature children are saved at birth to be placed in public school settings with myriads of health problems. You love your kids, and you know the kids are not the problem; it’s always the grownups, and you can also sometimes point the finger at yourself.

These are the first signs of burnout: nagging emotions and feelings, loss of sleep, nervous tension, snapping at family members or teachers and administrators in your school. You’ve tried to network within your school to muster up some support, but other teachers have their own issues to sort out.

Fortunately, there’s help at hand. If your symptoms have grown to include a major problem like drug or alcohol abuse, your district probably has counseling available. Often called “employee assistance programs,” they can help to get you going in the right direction. Check out your health insurance policy; it will have other private options for mental health care. If your problems have become physical (stress takes a terrible toll on your body) get help now. You are not alone.

The first step is to sit down with your building principal and let her know you’re experiencing some stress-related health issues; can she suggest some ways to fight off burnout? She’s probably been there, so she will know what you’re talking about. Seek out other SPED teachers; they will be supportive and understand the unique challenges you face.

The Internet has become a rich source of support for many teachers. There are forums where you can anonymously share your stories and receive practical advice from teachers in your field. Some resources

I like:

Although this article is part of a blog series, I’d be happy to hear from you and even share some stories and practical tips for support. I’m a veteran, and I’m sure there is nothing you can say that could shock or offend. Leave a comment below, I’ll respond and we can start a dialogue. We are all better when we work together. 

Let me know how you’re doing.


Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Patterson Foundation

Description: The foundation provides resources to programs and to nonprofit organizations in the areas of oral health, animal health, and occupational and physical rehabilitation. Funds are granted for: Health and Human Services programs related to the focus areas that benefit economically disadvantaged people or youth with special needs; and Education as it relates to the focus areas, especially programs that increase the number of underrepresented people in the dental, veterinary, occupational health and physical health fields.

Program Areas: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Eligibility: At-Risk/Character, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family Services, General Education, Health/PE

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Annual Total Amount: $5,000.00 – $75,000.00

Average Amount: $500,000.00 – $800,000.00

Address: 1031 Mendota Heights Road, St. Paul, MN 55120-1419

Telephone: 651-686-1929

Email: information@pattersonfoundation.net

Website: Patterson Foundation

Availability: All States

Are You Out of Compliance in Your SPED Classroom?

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

teacher time

At some time or another, it seems inevitable that you will be out of compliance in your classroom. This happens in especially bad economic times. Cities and towns become incapable of raising tax revenues to cover all costs and everything suffers. The number one reason you might have compliance issues is in maintaining a certain number of students in your care at any given time.

As referrals and approvals come in, administrators must find a suitable placement for a child. Sometimes there’s just no room at the inn, so they assign the child to your classroom until another solution becomes available.

There are some things you can do to try to start solving these problems, at least in your own domain, but first you need to understand the law.

I have a special fondness for Wrightslaw online. It’s a site that has every possible SPED law spelled out and explained in plain English. It also points people to other resources that may help solve problems with staying in compliance of IDEA, Public Law 94-142 laws. It links to advocacy groups, attorneys who specialize in this complex corner of the law, and provides access to advocacy and Special Education Law libraries (to-die-for resources).

I could spend weeks reading all the articles and papers on this site and never truly have a complete understanding of the laws for our special education students. I recommend surveying this site; it has a good search engine if you have specific questions about how to stay in compliance in your classroom.

girl classroomThe numbers of students in your care is pretty basic. All the regulations adhere to a basic premise that we are providing the LRE (Least Restrictive Environment) for special ed. students. There is a legal definition of this concept, but we all know what it means. We need to include SPED students as much as possible in classrooms for all children. Students are no longer shuttled into a separate self-contained room or school and forgotten. There are still self-contained classes, but the rules around placement are very strict and must be followed to the letter.

When I am out of compliance in student count, the first thing I do is look at the class list in its totality. Can I prioritize my class list? This sounds barbaric, but there are always students who may have been in SPED classrooms too long and it is in their best interests to have their IEPs changed with parent input. Graduating (phasing) a student out of SPED services is hard to do, so be prepared for a fight. People (parents) become happy with extra care situations for their children. I always work with district SPED officials and my school principal. I can be a squeaky wheel, and if I keep at it, students can be phased out of my classrooms. Call IEP meetings and review each situation thoroughly to try to keep your room in compliance.

In a resource room, you cannot exceed five students per instructor. There are also rules for paraprofessionals; can a child be assigned a personal aide (through the IEP and team meeting process)? We are all aware of situations when keeping it to five students is just not feasible and the student count in resource rooms swells to try to absorb the overflow. There can be acceptable temporary arrangements. Self-contained classrooms are generally eight students with a full time teacher and one paraprofessional.

You are probably questioning my numbers. Actually, so am I. As I tried to research this issue, I came across different guidelines in different states. The best description of these rules can be found on Wrightslaw:

Is There a Legal Definition of Self Contained Classroom?

There is no legal definition of “self-contained classroom” in the federal statute.

It is suggested that you defer to your state special education offices for guidance.

We all know a classroom that is out of compliance. We know what it looks like, how it’s not functioning and that we should do something about it when we can.

Some resources to help us all stay up to date:

NCLB No Child Left Behind

IDEA 2004 (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)

NASET – National Association of Special Ed Teachers

Teachervision – practical everyday things to use in your classroom.

Special Education Guide

Let us know if you have a class out of compliance and the plans you are developing to fix it.


Grant Name: Family Service Community Grants

Funded By: Autism Speaks

Description: Autism Speaks seeks to directly support the innovative work of autism service providers in local communities across the United States. The focus of our Family Services Community Grants is three-fold: to promote autism services that enhance the lives of those affected by autism; to expand the capacity to effectively serve this growing community; and to enhance the field of service providers.

Program Areas: After-School, Arts, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family Services, General Education, Health/PE, Library, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Technology, Vocational

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline: 3/25/2015

Annual Total Amount: $5,000.00 – $25,000.00

Telephone: 917-475-5059

E-mail: sselkin@autismspeaks.org

Website: Autism Speaks

Availability: All States

Blended Learning in Special Education

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

child teacher computer

Blended Learning Environments – Using technology and traditional SPED classroom instruction to facilitate learning.

There’s a buzzword that’s been gaining momentum in all education spheres these days: blended learning. Basically, (don’t wince—this is very basic) it is adding technology to existing classroom lessons to increase motivation and engagement in learning. It can include video, podcasts, streaming content from providers, interactive exercises, asynchronous and, increasingly, synchronous lessons. Grab one of those iPad labs the district is handing out; don’t be left out in the techie cold.

With blended learning, the student is the star with the teacher on hand for support. Some part of the lesson delivery is online using a learning management system (LMS) that includes a database to keep track of student assessment, attendance and achievement gains (the LMS does the heavy lifting). Assessment is just one way technology will facilitate student learning.

The shift to blended learning from a traditional special ed. classroom or resource room model should not be difficult. Traditional lesson planning strategies will overlap blended learning with a new way of looking at things. The best way to describe blended learning for a teacher who would like to understand the model might be to look at a blended learning lesson plan template. Can you select the lesson plan steps that will stay the same as your current plans?

ABC learningLesson Plan Template for Blended Learning Environments

  1. Alignment with Common Core State Standards (CCSS):
    Standards-based instruction for special ed. students remains number one; objectives must be aligned to the standards you have selected in your timeline and skills rollout.
  2. Objectives:
    In a special ed. model, you will be prepared to plan formultiple  Each student works toward his own goals. Students move continually forward, the pace is driven by assessment results that are part of the learning management system.
  3. Data Analysis:
    The guiding light in instruction is the careful analysis of the data provided by the LMS and your own formative assessments.
  4. Scheduling (blocking):

This is one of the challenges teachers face; the schedule and rollout of instruction for any standard will look very different at the elementary level from instruction in high school. In a SPED environment there are no heterogeneous groups, but lessons remain flexible so individuals can step out and move quickly through skills they grasp, while others will stay and repeat certain skills until mastery is achieved. You can arrange the class into somewhat flexible groups.

  1. Setting:
    Blended learning provides multiple environments to reassure students and accommodate for different learning styles. One environment for learning will be online and technology based. You may have a small group with several learning environments: computer labs, tablet labs, teacher led lessons, special tutoring and study carrel assignments. All of these can be modified for a resource room.
  2. Activities:
    You can use existing successful lesson plans, they can still access their thumb drives with the best lessons from past years. You will become expert in finding the lessons and activities that reach into the depths of your special students’ learning. Hands-on project-based learning can continue.
  3. Timing:
    Within blocks and scheduling schemas, you may have different groups working through different skill sets at the same time. You can make learning one-on-one by adjusting students’ time in the various microenvironments according to different needs.
  4. Assessment and Testing:
    Assessments are determined in the planning stage as markers to guide further learning. The goal for the teacher is to measure when students have met their objectives within a given standard.
  5. Organization:
    There are many lesson plan templates that show how existing teaching styles can be honed and fine-tuned for the new special ed. blended learning model. Some resources include:

Your classroom may need to be rearranged to suit the needs of the learners. The school network specialist will need to keep the internet connection open. Your district may install its own learning management system through which students can access your classroom assignments; it will be useful for SPED classrooms too. This developing trend shows promise for security conscious administrators.

teacher little girl

A new model for learning always suffers growing pains. There will be new ideas coming online all the time, but the promise of raising special ed. student achievement through blended learning is exciting. It pulls together all the effective strategies that educators have developed to manage standards-based instruction on a large scale, right down to the individual and his learning needs.

Other resources:


Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation

Description: Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation supports innovative projects that help youth with disabilities develop the leadership and employment skills they need to succeed, particularly for careers in science, technology and the environment. MEAF will also consider projects to create tools that help break down barriers to employment and increase job opportunities for young people with disabilities entering the workforce, including returning veterans with disabilities.

Program Areas: Disabilities, General Education, Professional Development, Science/Environmental, Special Education, Technology, Vocational

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: 6/1/2015

Annual Total Amount: $400,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $10,000.00

Address: 1560 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 1150, Arlington, VA 22209-2463

Telephone: 703-276-8240

Website: Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation

Availability: All States