A Capehart Scatchard Blog

District Court Affirms Failure to Strictly Implement “Door-to-Door” Transportation Did Not Violate IDEA

By: Becky Batista, Law Clerk

Editor: Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq.

On March 17, 2022, the U.S. District Court of New Jersey affirmed the ruling of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) in S.W. v. Elizabeth Board of Education that “transportation to and from the corner bus stop rather than from the disabled child’s home did not rise to the level of a denial of a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”), did not significantly impede the parents’ opportunity to participate relative to his education and did not cause a deprivation of educational benefits.”

In S.W., the parents of a disabled student sought compensatory education and a determination that the District denied their child a FAPE. For two consecutive academic school years, the student had an individualized education program (“IEP”) that reflected door-to-door transportation. Despite this provision in the IEP, each school year the parents were notified via letter from the District that the student’s designated bus stop location would be on the corner of their dead-end street and not their home. The parents would drive the student to the corner where he sat in the car until the bus arrived. After school, his parents would either pick him up or meet him at the corner. The parents did not dispute this discrepancy until September 2019 – three years later.

The parents’ attempt to reinstate the door-to-door transportation services with the District was unsuccessful. As a result, the parents filed a complaint with the Office of Special Education Policy and Dispute Resolution of the New Jersey Department of Education (“SPDR”). SPDR found that the district was non-compliant with the IEP as written and corrective action was required. Following these findings, the parties met for an IEP meeting in an attempt to resolve the issue of transportation for the student.  The meeting was unsuccessful and the parents filed for due process.

The ALJ heard the matter and rendered a final decision, concluding that the District did not deny the student a FAPE. The ALJ held that the parents were properly notified of the designated bus stop, and the District provided the student with transportation to and from school on the school bus, albeit from the corner bus stop. Thus, the student had access to an education. The ALJ also concluded that there was no evidence that an at-home stop was required to access an appropriate education. The parents appealed the ALJ’s decision to the District Court.

The District Court viewed the issue as a question of whether the District failed to properly implement the IEP when its bus driver picked up the disabled student at the corner rather than in front of his house, and if so, with what consequence. The Court concluded that the District failed to implement the transportation provision of the IEP, but such failure was de minimis and did not deprive the student of a FAPE. The Court explained that IDEA provides the District with flexibility to implement an IEP, and such flexibility is necessary here, where traffic safety concerns are implicated. The District’s policy is never to have a bus stop on a dead-end street that would require “backing” the bus, regardless of the type of bus. In addition, the Court noted that the student had access to an education and that “the medical and other evidence reviewed by the ALJ did not undermine the appropriateness of a corner bus stop.”  The Court stated that the door-to-door transportation was neither a substantial nor significant provision in the IEP. 

The parents also claimed that the change in transportation from door-to-door to the corner also changed the student’s educational placement in violation to the “stay put” provision of the IDEA. The “stay put provision” mandates that the child shall remain in his then-current educational placement during the pendency of any proceedings. However, the Court concluded that there was no evidence that pick-up/drop-off from the corner had a signification effect on the student’s learning experience, and therefore, the District did not violate the “stay put” provision of the IDEA.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq. concentrates her practice on the representation of boards of education and charter schools in all areas of school law including: labor and employment, special education, Section 504, student discipline, FERPA, Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, student residency, civil rights, tenure, OPRA, and OPMA. In connection with these representations, she is experienced in handling matters before State and Federal courts, including the Office of Administrative Law. Ms. Dev is an experienced special education litigator and defends school districts in due process hearings from inception through trial. In addition, she has handled matters before governmental agencies, including the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Ms. Dev routinely conducts training and seminars, drafts policies and manuals, and provides strategic advice to school administrators regarding school law issues. Ms. Dev was recently recognized as one of South Jersey’s Awesome Attorneys as published by South Jersey Magazine. She is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, the District Court for the District of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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