Interdistrict Transfer Transportation Policy Did Not Alleviate District’s Transportation Obligations to a Student with Disabilities

mike photoAuthor: Michael Tucker, Attorney at Law 

Summary:

On March 30, 2015, an administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled that a school district was still required to provide transportation to a student with autism despite board policy denying transportation to non-resident students.  The student did not live in the district, but attended pursuant to an interdistrict transfer agreement between the student’s district of residence and the district in which the student’s mother worked.  Torrance Unified School District, (2015) 115 LRP 15204.

Facts:

Student is a sixth grader with autism who attended Torrance Unified School District (TUSD) subject to a valid interdistrict transfer permit with Student’s district of residence.  Student’s mother (Parent) worked within TUSD boundaries and provided Student with transportation while Student attended a TUSD elementary school.  TUSD recommended placement at a special day class approximately 3 miles from Parent’s workplace.  Parent refused placement unless transportation was provided.  TUSD filed for a due process hearing to implement the recommended placement without Parent’s consent.

TUSD claimed that the district was under no obligation to transport Student because Student was not a district resident.  TUSD argued that transportation was not required for non-resident students attending a TUSD school on an interdistrict transfer permit.

Issue:

Is an LEA required to transport a non-resident special education student attending an LEA school on an interdistrict transfer permit?

Holding:

Yes, despite a policy suggesting the contrary the LEA is required to provide transportation if necessary to ensure FAPE.

Discussion:

TUSD argued that because Student was a non-resident attending a district school on an interdistrict transfer permit, pursuant to district policy TUSD was not required to provide transportation.  TUSD did not conduct any “factual analysis” or other assessment to determine if transportation was necessary.  TUSD further argued that the middle school closest to Parent’s employment was inappropriate, instead recommending a special day class approximately 3 miles away.

The ALJ found that TUSD’s district policy or administrative regulation did not “insulate the District from the obligation to provide Student transportation as a related service.”  The ALJ was not persuaded by cases relied on by TUSD holding that a district is not required to provide transportation for students with special needs seeking interdistrict transfers.  The ALJ noted that in this case, it was TUSD who determined that appropriate placement was further from Parent’s workplace, not parental choice to attend a different school.

Practice Pointer:

This case highlights the difficulty that can arise when attempting to reconcile conflicting board policy or administrative regulations with IDEA requirements.  As the ALJ noted, “any state or local law that exempts certain categories of students with disabilities from eligibility for transportation is illegal and violates the fundamental premise of the IDEA.”  As such, special care should be taken when denying a student with special needs a potentially related service based on a board policy or administrative regulation.

 

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