An administrative law judge found that the Long Beach Unified School District violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act when the District failed to provide necessary transportation services for more than a year. The District agreed to provide the services outside of an IEP meeting but failed to amend the IEP to include the services and applied a District policy denying transportation services. (Long Beach Unified School District, (2023) 123 LRP 7809).
Student was an 11th grade student eligible for special education under the categories of autism, emotional disturbance, and other health impairment. At hearing Student’s parents contended that Student required transportation when the District returned to in-person instruction following school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the District denied transportation based on a District policy that transportation not be provided if the student voluntarily attends a school other than their school of residence. Here, Student planned to attend a District school that was not his school of residence based on parental preference.
Between IEP meetings, the District offered Student door-to-door transportation with an aide and Parent accepted the offer. However, Parent elected to transport the student because the District never implemented the offer nor memorialized the transportation services in Student’s IEP.
Generally, transportation services, like all related services, are an IEP team decision. If transportation is determined to be a necessary related service by an IEP team, it must be provided. In this case, the hearing officer ruled in favor of the Parent based on the District’s failure to amend the IEP and their blanket application of their transportation policy.
First, LEAs should always be mindful of any offers or promises made to families outside of the IEP process. Moreover, if those offers or promises are made, they should be discussed within the context of an IEP team meeting.
Second, the District may have avoided liability at hearing had they obtained a waiver or followed the IEP team’s decision instead of the transportation policy. The District argued that their policy was based on an implied waiver. Essentially, if a parent voluntarily chose a school that was different from the school of residence, the parent impliedly waived the right to transportation. However, any waiver has to be clear and unambiguous. Additionally, in relying on the policy, the District gave precedence to their policy over the IEP team’s decision.
Here, the District could have potentially avoided liability if it followed the IEP team’s decision regarding transportation despite the policy or obtained a clear waiver from the parents.
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