UniteGPS – Last month Chalkbeat Chicago reported that the Chicago Public Schools has launched new efforts to better accommodate students with disabilities affected by the bus driver shortage. The district now claims to have “met its obligation” to ensure route coverage for special needs students.

Chicago Public Schools

Halfway through the course year, however, over 1,000 general education students at Chicago Public Schools are still awaiting a bus route assignment. Students requiring transportation under federal law have reportedly taken priority, but policy changes now seek to expand eligibility.

CEO of Chicago Public Schools Pedro Martinez announced during a recent board meeting that 715 special needs students, who were previously unassigned, now have route access. This brought the number of students with disabilities using school transportation to 10,000, according to the report.

In preparation for the upcoming school year, the new transportation policy will cater specially to “medically fragile students” while respecting to disabled students’ Individualized Education Programs. Priority will also go to low-income students and those with temporary housing.

According to the Chicago Public Schools in a statement, the number of requests to assign route transportation to students fluctuates throughout the year, always depending on the students’ needs. The district has already received 427 new requests from students with disabilities following the board meeting. So far, 170 of those have a route assignment.

Special needs students at Chicago Public Schools

These transportation policy changes come during a national hiring shortage of school bus drivers complicating lives for families across the nation. Common grievances include last-minute route cancelations, extended route times, poor district planning, and inconsistent communication from district officials ensuring reliable transportation for students.

At the end of the day, many families worry about their children being stranded at bus stops, especially special needs students impacted by deteriorating route coverage. Outside of Chicago in NYC, groups like Parents to Improve School Transportation are seeking legislative action for transit equity based on the severity of this situation.

Also covered by Chalkbeat Chicago in October 2021, students with disabilities represented 2,500 out of 4,000 pending requests for transportation services (over half) at Chicago Public Schools.

“Like many other school districts across the country, CPS continues to adapt amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chicago Public Schools in a statement. “The District continues to work tirelessly to provide transportation to students amid a national driver shortage.’