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Here's why many Seattle Public Schools special education students stayed home this week

caption: File photo: Biftu Aliya, 9, gets off of the school bus on Thursday, November 15, 2018, at her home in Seattle.
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File photo: Biftu Aliya, 9, gets off of the school bus on Thursday, November 15, 2018, at her home in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Updated 2/8/19 10:10 am

In Seattle, many parents of special education students are learning the hard way that their kids don't get transportation this week unless they made special requests for snow routes at the start of the year.

Ann Huber has two grandchildren who both receive special education services at Aki Kurose Middle School. Like many kids in special ed, they get door-to-door transportation to accommodate their disabilities.

But Huber said the district hasn’t assigned them snow routes – so family members had to drive them to school.

"This is an egregious example of where they’re not even providing equal access to schools, much less equitable," Huber said.

Huber said it’s doubly inequitable for the many students whose parents are unable to drive them to school – especially low-income children. At Aki Kurose, last year 80 percent of the students were low-income, and 96 percent were children of color. One of her grandchildren was the only student out of 13 in his class whod made it to school yesterday.

Denying special education students a ride to school on snowy days is not just unequal – it’s potentially illegal under federal law, said education attorney Shannon McMinimee.

"If special education students have transportation as a related service in their [Individualized Education Program], they are entitled to that service regardless of whether there is inclement weather," she said.

"If there's missed transportation due to inclement weather, and that prevents a special education student whose IEP includes transportation from getting to school, the student is entitled to compensatory education for missed services," McMinimee said.

In a statement, Seattle Public Schools spokesperson Tim Robinson wrote that the district's focus during inclement weather is on student safety.

"The SPS transportation department provides all qualifying special education students’ families with a communication outlining the opt-in program for transportation during inclement weather," he wrote. "That communication is sent in early October. It is also given to drivers to give their students and the form can be downloaded from the SPS website in October."

After KUOW reported on this issue Thursday, the district emailed families a form to allow them another chance to arrange special education snow routes.

Officials in neighboring Bellevue and Highline Districts, meanwhile, said that they they proactively arrange snow routes for all their special ed students who need special transportation services – like they do general education students. "That's required by federal law," said Highline spokesperson Tove Tupper.

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