In an effort to make it better for students with special needs to ride buses, Seymour Community Schools administrators are looking to implement a new transportation plan.
If the plan is approved, all special needs students will be dropped off at Seymour Middle School beginning this fall, where they will transfer to buses that will take them to the school they attend.
Tim Fosbrink, transportation director, said the plan will help cut route times and miles and make busing special needs students more efficient.
“Over the past few years, the special needs population has grown, both in number of students and number of buildings we service,” he said. “We’ve done a pretty good job in transportation of supplying those needs without having to add a bunch of routes.”
But the time has come to make some changes, he said.
The district has a total of 102 special needs students in kindergarten through 12th grade and 39 preschoolers that ride buses. That’s an increase of 52 students in the past six years.
Mika Ahlbrand, director of special education, said the district has just outgrown its current system.
“I think it worked well for a while,” she said. “But we’re pretty close to doubling the number of students that ride special transportation.”
Although 50 additional kids may not sound like a lot to transport, Ahlbrand said special needs routes take more time, because each one is an individual home stop.
Currently, special education buses are dropping off students at seven different school buildings multiple times from 8 to 8:45 a.m. with the longest ride time being 103 minutes.
“Right now, we’re at the point where we’re going to have to add or do something,” Fosbrink said.
With the proposed plan, special needs students will ride a bus to the middle school arriving by 8:15 a.m. They will switch buses and then be dropped off at their school by 8:30 a.m.
In the afternoon, students will get on the bus at their school at 3 p.m. and be transported to the middle school to change buses by 3:15 p.m. to go home.
“This will give each school one stop for all their special needs children and eliminate the need for multiple buses at different times,” Fosbrink said.
He estimated overall savings will be 209 minutes of route time and nearly 50 miles daily. The longest ride will be reduced by 38 minutes to 65 minutes, he added.
As an example, Fosbrink said currently there are three special needs buses that provide service to Sycamore Springs apartments off U.S. 31 just south of Seymour.
“We have to have three buses out there right now at the same complex to cover all the schools that we have to meet, which is kind of ridiculous,” he said. “This way we can put one bus out there, take them to the middle school, transfer them and get them to the school where they need to be. Basically, it saves time and money.”
Ahlbrand said they are taking the transfer process seriously and plan to have plenty of staff on hand the first couple of weeks to make sure the process is safe and organized.
The district will be able to implement the new plan with its current transportation staff and buses, without having to add routes, Fosbrink said.
“A few kids might be on the bus a little longer,” he said. “But the ones that are on there for an hour and 20 minutes, that will definitely be reduced greatly.”
Ahlbrand said individual student needs will be taken into consideration when determining routes.
“If there is a student that a transfer might be more challenging for, that student won’t have to transfer,” she said. “We’ll coordinate the busing so specific students don’t transfer, they’ll stay on the same bus.”
Another difference is that younger students will ride the bus with older students.
“In the past, we never wanted to mix the preschool with K-12 special needs students,” Fosbrink said.
But it hasn’t been a problem so far in some of the transferring they are currently doing, he added.
“It’s worked well,” he said.
The new plan also allows for continued growth in the number of special needs students riding buses and the ability to make changes more quickly, he added.
The next step is to take the plan to teachers, principals and parents for discussion before moving forward.
Fosbrink said it will take time to get used to the new plan, and there will be challenges to work through including getting staff coordinated at each of the schools, different class times at the school buildings, weather and other problems that pop up.
“It’s a drastic change,” he said. “We know there are going to be some hurdles to jump.”