Maximum Length of School Bus Ride

Did you know that some school students, particularly those in rural areas such as Reservations, may ride the school bus for over 2 hours one way? Not exactly rocket science to identify it as a contributing factor to absenteeism or drop out rates.

Who wants to spend 4 or 5 hours on the school bus, and in Arizona heat? A long school bus ride looks different depending where you live.

How Long Can a Child Be on a School Bus

Now, that point wasn’t to make you super-grateful because your child only has a 60 or 90 minute ride. Or to try to negate your concerns about your disabled child’s long school bus ride. My point is that lots of kids have long school bus rides, and you are not alone.

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Average School Bus Ride Time

A 2001 study was one of the most recent ones I could find. Very frustrating!

But, it also stated that a common figure that is quoted is “30 minutes” when that tends to not be the case. And, interesting but not shocking findings: The poorer a student is, and the more rural a student is, the longer their school bus ride will be.

Mind you, this study is around 20 years old. I say that only because school budgets have taken a tremendous hit in the past 20 years. And, one way to trim costs is to run fewer but fuller buses.

How long can a child legally be on a school bus?

A long bus ride by itself may not be enough reason to change it. IDEA does not define length of bus rides and what is appropriate. Some states do define how long a child can legally be on a school bus, and most have it capped at one hour. You will have to research your state’s regs to see if they exist and if your district is in compliance.

If it’s not defined by your state, and it’s not in IDEA, you have to take another approach. You’re going to have to focus on the I-Individual aspect of IEP as to why this is not appropriate for your child.

On an IEP, transportation is considered a related service. If you have transportation concerns, approach it the same way you would any other related service. How is or isn’t it meeting your child’s needs?

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Ask your child about the bus ride.

Like anything else, to the maximum extent possible, include your child in this process. What may seem like a long ride to the parents may be quite enjoyable for the student.

My typical child often says that the bus ride is his favorite part of the day.

Effects of Long Bus Rides on Students

The studies on how a long bus ride could affect a student’s performance are few and far between. I found one interesting study from Penn State, but even that study was compiled with “reflective data.” That means they interviewed former students and adults, and asked them what they remembered about their bus ride.

But, we don’t need hard data if it is individually affecting your child, and they have told you as much. When a child tells you something, believe them. Too often they are gaslighted into “oh that’s not really a problem.”

School buses can be a problem. It’s dozens of students with varying ages with very limited supervision. Bullying, profanity, and so much more can and does occur. At best, your child can sit quietly and either snooze or read for the journey. At worst, they’re bullied at intimidated by others or could have a medical crisis such as a seizure or hypoglycemia.

How To Approach your School About a Long Bus Ride.

There are many thoughts rolling around in my head about this and how I would approach it if it was my child or a client.

  1. First, check your state’s regs. (at bottom of post) Some states define this, many do not. That might be all the data you need. Also read your school district transportation policy. This is not defined by IDEA, so you will have to find other places where it is defined, if possible.
  2. Identify/list/define why this long bus ride is detrimental to your child’s well being or affecting their ability to access their education. Reasons might include dangerous situations due to Type 1 Diabetes or epilepsy. Or the ride is so long that your child is hungry when they arrive at school or require medication.
  3. Request an IEP/504 meeting with all your reasons in a parent letter of concern. Keep in mind that is an issue that may not require you to convene the entire team. It may be appropriate in your letter to state that you only need the Director of Transportation, LEA, nurse, behaviorist and so on, and that you only need to discuss transportation.
  4. Transportation is an IEP Related Service. There’s no “well, that’s the bus, not school.” It is school. As far as IDEA, the bus is considered a “related service” and therefore part of the IEP. If your bus driver needs training, it’s quite appropriate to put it in the IEP.
  5. Be solution oriented: What would it take to make this situation better? Can the route be changed? What is required to add an aide? A camera on the bus?
  6. If the route cannot be changed or shortened, brain storm on what else could be done. If your district is running just one bus to get your child from Point A to Point B, see if a private transportation company can do it for cheaper. Can parents car pool? Can the parent be reimbursed for mileage for transporting the child?
  7. If the bus ride cannot be changed, what can happen to make it better? Can the child be exempted from usual policies and be allowed to eat as desired? Can they add wifi to the bus so that the child can work on homework? (this is one of the solutions in Arizona) What about headphones, iPad, Leap Pad, books, music, even tutoring! Think outside the box to make the most of a long bus ride.
  8. What are your non-negotiables, such as bullying, safety, seizures, etc.
  9. Document, document, document. If you’re not making progress, keep documenting bus incidents as necessary.
  10. Rally other community members. One of the many reasons that school transportation has changed in recent years is due to the increase in parents driving their kids to school when they could take a bus. This means that a bus often has a longer route to cover, resulting in longer rides for some of the kids. Rally your community to be greener and take the bus when possible.
  11. If your district provides transportation for all students, then they must provide transportation for your child, regardless of placement. The only exception to this would be if it was part of a settlement agreement and not included.
  12. If your district does not provide transportation to any child, you will have to make the case that this is a necessary related service in order for your child to access FAPE.

The School Bus and Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

I feel I have to at least mention LRE. It’s not really a secret that “riding the short bus” carries with it a negative stigma and may open the child up to bullying and more. I certainly wish that as a society we were past that point, but we’re not.

LRE extends to all areas of the IEP, not just the classroom placement. I say this only to take it into consideration. Your child may enjoy the regular school bus and it may be his/her only time with typical children all day.

Hopefully this gets you on the path to getting this resolved!

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