Alternative Student Transportation Myths Reviewed – Now What?

Over the past few months, we’ve explored three common myths surrounding alternative forms of student transportation. To close the series, we want to take a few minutes to look ahead into the upcoming purchasing season and what the status of these myths could mean for your RFPs.


Before we start, the most important thing to remember is that when it comes to alternative student transportation, your traditional RFP won’t always work. There are parts of your RFP that are standard district policy, but when it comes to the Scope of Work section there are things to keep your eyes open for and changes you may want to consider. 

Below is a quick review of the status of each of the myths we’ve already explored and some ideas to keep in mind as you begin putting your alternative student transportation RFP together for the 2022-2023 school year.


Myth #1: The only students who need alternative transportation are children with special needs.

BUSTED.

The student populations most commonly transported in alternative vehicles include:

• Homeless/Displaced children eligible under the McKinney-Vento Act

• Those traveling out of district

• Foster youth protected under ESSA

• Students with IEPs dictating they ride alone

• Medically fragile students

• Children with behavioral disorders

• Students in special programs (magnet, GATE, etc.)

Limiting your district’s ability to utilize alternative transportation models for one or two groups of students also limits their ability to efficiently transport these types of students together (when possible, of course). This may be better illustrated through a real-life example.

Student A, we’ll call him Ethan, is in second grade and is eligible for transportation under the McKinney-Vento Act. He is currently residing in a hotel that is about 2 blocks outside your district boundaries while his family searches for housing options close to the school he’s been attending for the past two years. District policy allows for MKV students to be transported in alternative vehicles.

Student B, let’s call her Beth, is in first grade and attends the same school as Ethan because there’s a special program for students with autism at that school. Beth happens to live inside district boundaries and only about 2 miles from where Ethan is staying. She requires no special equipment and is not required to ride alone. District policy, however, dictates bus-only transportation for special needs students. 

Both students are eligible for district provided transportation, Ethan under the McKinney-Vento Act, and Beth because of her IEP and special needs. However, the district will have to utilize two vehicles and two drivers for a trip that could be handled by one of each.

Limiting the transportation department’s ability to route and transport these two students together not only makes the program less efficient, but it also increases your costs significantly. This isn’t the only scenario like this within your district, but the solution is the same across the board. 

So, let’s say you decide to transport them together, but you have another question. 

“If we route, dispatch, and transport Ethan and Beth together, how do we then get split invoicing in order to apply for the appropriate funding for each?” 

The simple answer is to write the predicament into your RFP and let your potential vendor tell you how they will split the invoicing for you. There are a few different ways to do this. Ask for examples. Are they charging by the student, the day, the trip, or the miles? Ask them to explain their pricing model and show, by the numbers, how it would apply to this trip (or a similar one in your district). In order to end up comparing apples-to-apples, you’ll want to have them show how they get to the final number utilizing whichever pricing structure they’ve chosen. 

If you choose to include this in your RFP, make sure to include information such as number of students, miles between locations, how many times that trip will occur per day, and let them know it’s just an example. You don’t have to include actual student data, but it is a good idea to use real addresses to allow them the opportunity to really show what they’re offering. And more than one option is also a good idea. It allows for different contractors to show their best options.

Myth #2: Alternative transportation doesn’t meet standard student transportation requirements.

PLAUSIBLE. And it should be.

Remember that this is plausible because the vehicle types are different. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for a driver of a minivan to take a behind-the-wheel test for a school bus to prove they can back up properly. It does, however, make perfect sense for the driver to have to submit to the same background and health checks. 

To help determine which requirements are critical and which don’t apply, be sure to know what’s required in your state and whether your state has regulations written specifically for alternative vehicle types. If you’re in a state that has not yet outlined rules for alternative options, you can create your own and hold your contractors responsible for compliance.

If you’re already outsourcing transportation services, you know it’s critical to be upfront with your contractors. Requirements and expectations should always be clearly defined and then monitored and tracked to ensure safety and compliance. You can build those rules, expectations, and reporting requirements right into your RFP.

To leave your district open for the opportunity to use alternative vehicle types, consider using the following industry best practices for contractors in your RFP: 

• Contractor must have a documented history of providing special education transportation, perhaps even a set number of years’ worth.

• Contractor must have proof of proper insurance and appropriate licensing as a student transportation service and must be regulated by the same state agency regulating the district’s transportation services.

• Contractor must ensure consistency with drivers and vehicles every day (except for spare vehicles for out-of-service maintenance work and driver call-offs/time off).

You may also want to consider some of the following best practices

relating to drivers and vehicles:

Minimum driver qualifications could include:

• Hold a valid driver’s license for the type of vehicle being utilized

• Satisfactory criminal background check which is subject to ongoing monitoring

• Satisfactory motor vehicle record check which is subject to ongoing monitoring

Be enrolled in a drug and alcohol testing program responsible for pre-service, random, post-accident, and reasonable suspicion testing

• Follow federal and state Department of Health contagious disease requirements and/or regulations

• Submit proof of an annual physical

• Adopt district safety and confidentiality policies

• Complete initial and ongoing annual training related to student transportation and special needs

Minimum vehicle qualifications could include:

• The driver and each passenger shall always be properly secured with the appropriate seat restraint when the vehicle is in motion

• Contractor must provide real-time GPS for all vehicles

• Vehicles shall be identified easily, cleaned regularly, and be free of odors and defects

• Vehicles shall be inspected by a qualified mechanic before providing service, upon request, after an accident, and once per year. Documentation and proof of these inspections should be kept on file with the contractor.

• Vehicles shall follow manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule

Always consult with your district legal advisors and risk management teams before releasing your RFP. All requirements should match or exceed state and/or county requirements for your district and should not add risk for you or your students. 

Myth #3: Alternative student transportation is not as consistent as traditional transportation.

PLAUSIBLE.

Most alternative student transportation options do provide the same level of consistency expected of your internal program. Remember this was only plausible because there’s one model type that, by definition, cannot ensure the same driver and vehicle every day. 

Consistency is a powerful tool in helping children learn and develop. It impacts children’s routine, structure, development, behavior, trust, and overall learning abilities. And yes, the driver to and from school has a significant influence on the overall consistency of a student’s day.

Just the other day a story was shared with us of a woman who transports two students with high functioning autism to school every day. She plays their favorite music for them on the way to school to help them arrive ready to learn. One day, when getting out of her van at school, one of the students stopped and said to her, “I wish you could be my nana,” and then scrambled out of the vehicle and was off to school. 

The impact those students have on this driver is immeasurable. The driver wants to be there every single day for these two students. She feels connected and knows the impact she’s making. That is an impact only consistency can make. Different drivers won’t know those students’ favorite music or how to help calm them down on their way home after a long day. 

Many of us have heard stories like this one, so we know that finding the right contractor isn’t always just about the numbers. Unfortunately, the numbers do play a large part in finding the right contractor though, so we have to figure out how to balance the two. How do we find a contractor who will put the students first and help us stay within our budget?

As mentioned before, most alternative transportation providers do offer consistency and, as the district writing the RFP, you have the authority to require it. Student safety is always the first priority and a consistent driver who knows the needs of your students should be a must. 

As part of the RFP process, you may want to consider holding interviews once the proposals have been submitted. There are some key questions you can ask the potential contractors to help determine their commitment to your students’ needs and your requirement for consistent drivers and vehicles. Those questions can include:

• What is your experience in working with students with disabilities? Have them explain a few different types of disabilities they have experience with and how they’ve handled difficult situations.

• What training programs do you have and what do they cover? Look for training programs that talk about customer service and interactions with students with differing needs.

• Do you provide driver consistency? What does that look like? Some will say they provide a consistent experience – have them elaborate and be specific in what they consider an “experience” to be.

• What do you understand about our needs? How are you going to meet them? What does that look like on a daily basis for us and for our students?

Lastly, check their references and ask those individuals how the contractor has helped them with difficult situations. Ask about consistency and what that has looked like for them. 

Conclusion

These past two school years have shown us that even when we think we have it all figured out there’s always something new to learn and something different to try. With a driver shortage like nothing we’ve ever seen, and constant changes to federal and state educational in-person policies, the upcoming 2022-2023 school year has the potential to be extra challenging. Looking ahead and planning for the future, however, will help us make it the best year yet.


Abi Studer is marketing manager for ALC Schools. With a robust background in contract compliance and regulation subject matter expertise, Studer blends that experience into ALC School’s marketing efforts. Her focus is to provide school districts across the country with actionable and relatable content to evolve their efforts with Special Needs students. Visit www.alcschools.com for more information.

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