Warren County Public Schools has put several new buses into service that can carry students who use wheelchairs.
Director of Transportation Aaron Mitchell II said the 77-passenger vehicles provide more space for students. One of the buses features a wheelchair lift, which can help eliminate the need for separate transport vehicles. But the division plans to add more buses with chairlifts in the future.
The new buses offer benefits on two fronts, Director of Special Services Michael Hirsch said Thursday.
“In a non-COVID environment, we can transport more children,” Hirsch said. “But in a COVID environment, it gives us the opportunity to maximize social-distancing to support students’ health on the bus.”
The school division treats buses like classrooms, Hirsch said.
“When we look at a classroom and students with disabilities, our goal is to educate students in the least restrictive environment in the classroom,” Hirsch said. “We add supports to that classroom.
“We do all the things that we can do to keep them in that classroom until we have to pull them out to a more restrictive classroom or placement,” Hirsch said. “Well, the same thing is true on a bus.”
Through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the division tries to keep students with disabilities on the school buses by making modifications and accommodations to the vehicles, Hirsch said. Accommodations can include air conditioning for students who require a climate-controlled environment, Hirsch said.
The school division’s Special Services and Transportation departments worked together to leverage the resources needed to purchase the buses. In addition to carrying more passengers or giving more social-distancing space, the new buses will include wheelchair lifts. The wheelchair lifts will “allow us to keep kids in the least-restrictive environment on that bus, so a student in a wheelchair doesn’t have to take a vehicle without their friends,” Hirsch said.