D.C. school officials are increasing their efforts to teach special-education students to take Metro to school, as the city tries to cut the $26,000-per-student annual cost of transporting them by bus.

D.C. Public Schools and other city education leaders are identifying students whom they believe can be “trained” to navigate public transportation, and who attend schools that are accessible by bus or train from their homes.

Ryan Solchenberger, director of transportation for the Office of the State Superintendent for Education, said about 10 percent of special-education students are using public transportation, and that he was unaware of any problems arising from the program.

In January, “The plan is to begin rolling out additional travel training and communication about the program,” Solchenberger told The Washington Examiner.

The District spends about $92 million to bus 3,500 special-education students to class. Federal law requires that every student have access to a free education, and when the student’s neighborhood public school lacks adequate services, the city must foot the bill of driving them to a school that does.

Because of students’ varying needs, and thus varying schools, the bus fleet is far-flung — sometimes it goes to another school in D.C., but maybe it goes to Baltimore or farther. Each school bus averages 5.5 students per route, and most buses can run only one route each morning and afternoon.

Alaina Macia, CEO of MTM Transportation Inc., which has contracted with the city to replace some buses with more cost-efficient minivans, testified before the D.C. Council on Monday that about 20 percent of the 3,500 students could qualify for transit training.

The process begins with a formal assessment of the student, who must be deemed old enough to travel alone. If determined to be capable of riding public transit, an aide leads the student through the chosen route. Later, the aide shadows the student to ensure that he travels safely. The parent also can shadow the student.

Students who live and attend school in the District receive “flash passes,” 30-day cards with no monetary amount. Those traveling in or out of Maryland or Virginia receive $30 farecards. Flash passes are good for both the train and the bus, but kids who use farecards also receive tokens for the bus.

For example, 77 special-needs students take Metro transit to H.D. Woodson High School, a half-mile from the Benning Road Metro station. About 600 flash passes are given out each year, and the rest of students use student farecards and tokens.

“The goal of special education is to put the student in the least restrictive environment,” said Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley. “It helps them transition to life as adults.”

Sources : D.C. to train more special-ed students to use Metro


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