New NCST Section on Homeless Transportation Contains Controversial Provision

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Like most of National School Bus Specifications and Procedures discussed last week on the campus of the University of Central Missouri, new verbiage on the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and its impact on school transportation was approved with only a little debate.

But the result has left homeless education experts scratching their heads amid language that they say would violate federal law.

Five amendments to the section on homeless transportation were brought to the floor at the National Congress on School Transportation in Warrensburg, and the one that failed presents a very big problem to the industry if it is not revised, said Barbara Duffield, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth in Washington, D.C.

The issue centers on language that Local Education Agencies “may be required” to provide transportation services to homeless students, when federal law explicitly states that “the State and its local educational agencies will adopt policies and practices to ensure that transportation is provided.”

“I don’t know how you have a lawyer read McKinney-Vento and every other lawyer reads ‘shall’ and they put something in the standards that says ‘may,’” she commented after reading the final passed version. “That to me is actually putting a lot of states at risk because it’s suggesting that something is permissible that is in fact required. It’s not doing [states] any favors.”

“Certainly we can’t have anything out there that misquotes federal law,” added Diana Bowman, director of the National Center on Homeless Education in Greensboro, N.C.

But Alexandra Robinson, chair of the general operations writing committee that drafted the initial McKinney-Vento subsection under the new No Child Left Behind specifications and procedures, said that reality dictates that actual transportation services may be provided, and it was the intent of the committee to write the guidelines to meet McKinney-Vento’s assumption of reasonableness when transporting homeless students, which is also contained verbatim in the final draft.

“There are going to be times when transportation will not be provided, so transportation ‘may’ be provided,” she said. “Someone could also read it that transportation will always be provided regardless of the fact that the student lives in a shelter across the street from the school. It’s simply not that true transportation will be provided in all cases. It’s within reasonable accommodation.

“I totally understand the concern, but I’d be more concerned if there was a ‘will’ in there and people thought that no matter what you had to provide transportation.”

Robinson, who is also NAPT’s president-elect, said the section, as with the rest of the approved specifications and procedures at NCST, now passes to the editing and interpretations committees for final approval before being published, and it’s possible the issue at point may be further clarified.

“Maybe the sentence is confusing,” she added.

Procedural changes implemented for the current version of the national specs passed in 2005 allows for updates and revisions to posted in electronic format after the fact on the NCST Web site. Pete Baxter, steering committee chair for the recent 15th NCST, added that any contradiction with federal law could also be changed without the need to reintroduce the language to all delegates.