12 Questions to Ask About Your Child's School Bus Ride

Many special education students ride the bus to school, but parents often don't know basic facts about their child's commute. For example, do you know just where your child is going, who's going along and what happens when they get there?

Here are 12 questions parents should ask about a child's school bus ride, both before that first trip and throughout the school year.


What Time Will the Bus Come?

School Bus
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You should receive notification about bus arrival times before your child's first school day, but it's not unheard of for that word never to get out. Sometimes, the transportation department never gets notified that your child's due for pick-up. Don't be afraid to check on this in advance.

Ask the special education department the contact for bus scheduling and call that person ahead of time to make sure your child is on the list. Find out when you should expect your pick-up time notification as well. And if you don't get a response, call again. And again.

Be polite but be persistent. Waiting until the first day of school to lodge your complaint means your child will probably miss the bus.


Who Will Be on the Bus With My Child?

Mother and son laughing and hugging next to school

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Most special education buses will have a driver and an aide, and you'll usually have the same pair pulling up to your house every day. Get to know these folks. Ask for their names and make sure they know yours.

If there's particular information you need them to know—about a medical problem or a behavioral tactic, for example—make sure they have that information and be prepared to provide it yourself. Being on friendly terms with the bus personnel and appreciating that they often have a very difficult job can buy you and your child some goodwill.

Let them know you want to hear about any problems, and do the same for the afternoon crew if it's different.


How Will My Child Stay Seated?

Children riding school bus

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If your child is very small or has low muscle tone, you'll want to make sure an age-appropriate car seat is specified in the IEP. Call before the first day of school to make sure it will be aboard the bus.

For older children, ask about seat belts or other restraining devices, and if you are not comfortable with them, speak to your IEP team about how these devices aren't suitable for your child's disability.

Alternatively, for kids in wheelchairs, check ahead of time to ensure that the bus personnel has the equipment necessary to get your child on and off the bus and keep the chair restrained onboard.

Never assume that circumstances will be as you expect. Call the transportation department and verify.


Which Route Does the Bus Take to School?

School bus parked in empty park

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The school your child attends may seem like a straight shot, but if the bus is picking up a full load of kids, it may make quite a lot of detours along the way. Knowing the route can have a number of benefits: You learn where your child's classmates live; you can point out landmarks from the ride when you see them around town; you have a clue where your child might be if the bus is hung up; and you'll know to complain if the route is too circuitous.

You may not be able to get official notification of where the bus goes after your child boards, but that's easily remedied. Just follow the bus to school on the first day.


What Time Does the Bus Get to School?

Group of children (7-9) running to school bus

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Don't assume that the bus gets to school at the perfect time for a smooth transition into the school day. Some buses may arrive so early that your child has large stretches of unstructured time to kill before class or so late that a morning routine is thrown into disarray.

Traffic and weather being what they are, it's impossible to ensure punctuality each and every day of the school year. But if the bus's on-schedule arrival time is very early or late, that can negatively affect your child's school day.

This is where good relationships with teachers and bus personnel pay off. Ask them what time the bus gets to school. They may be as unhappy with it as you are.


Where Do Kids Go When They Get Off the Bus?

Boy (6-8) waving to mother from schoolbus, smiling

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Ideally, your child would go directly from the bus to the classroom that has been mandated as the most appropriate placement in the school. And if your child has a one-on-one aide, that individual would be present at that time. But things are very often not so ideal.

Your child may go into an auditorium or hallway or outdoor area for the time between bus and bell, and some aides may not go on duty until well after that time. If that will leave your child at risk of mistreatment or behavior problems, ask if other arrangements can be made.

There may be a protected spot that children with special needs can go to or someone who can watch your child during this time. Have any arrangements spelled out in the IEP and make sure they're in place on Day 1.


How Many Buses Are My Child's Classmates On?

Group of young students hanging out bus windows

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On the one hand, it's great if the whole class is on one bus because then there aren't multiple arrivals disrupting the class in the morning. Also, if ​the bad weather holds up a bus, nobody misses anything.

On the other hand, that means the bus is likely pretty full and your child's trip will take longer. It's good to know one way or another because it can help you better discuss the day's happenings with your child. You may find that your child memorizes which students are on which bus and the number of the bus they're on.


What Time Does the Bus Leave to Come Home?

Middle School Students Boarding Schoolbus

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It's a dirty little secret that children in special education often get dismissed from their classes early and tucked on their buses well before the bell rings and regular education students are released. That may not sound so bad—you may not want your child navigating school hallways when they're brimming with students.

But do a little calculation and find out how much class time is actually being missed. If it's an inappropriate amount, bring it up with the teacher and the IEP team.

If the bus is intentionally arriving late in the morning, your child may be deprived of a significant amount of learning time, just for the sake of convenience.


Which Route Does the Bus Take Home?

Yellow American Schoolbus pulling out of parking lot

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The bus should take the same route to school as it does from school, but the order of houses or the particular path taken may differ. Also, some children may go to after-school destinations that require them to take different buses or change the bus route.

Find out which route the bus follows home, so you always have a general idea of where your child is and can discuss the sights your child passes when you're driving together.


What Time Will the Bus Return?

Portrait of schoolgirls standing in front of bus

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You'll want to make sure to be home when the bus gets there or have somebody to greet your child in your place. It might be a good idea to have a neighbor who can meet your child in case of emergency and to let the bus personnel know that you've made this arrangement. This may be a particular concern if you have other children in different schools whom you must pick up at a time close to the bus drop-off hour.

Should you have a serious problem being home at the prescribed drop-off time, it doesn't hurt to ask the bus personnel or the transportation department whether a route reconfiguration is possible. It may also be an option to have your child dropped off at a different destination in the afternoon.


Who Takes Complaints?

Portrait of a mid adult man near a school bus

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Your initial notification of your child's busing arrangements will probably include a contact number, but if you don't get the official notification, you'll need to do some calling around to find the right office.

While you're on the phone, also ask about emergency numbers. Who do you call if your child is staying home or if the bus is late in the morning, your child is not taking the bus home, or the bus is late getting home?

Phone numbers that are used for one issue may not be used for another, and you'll want to have all the right ones at your fingertips should a problem arise.


Is a School Bus Ride the Best Choice for My Child?

Elementary and high school students (7-16) in school bus

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Most kids in special education take the bus, and for most parents, it's a helpful service. But that doesn't mean you're required to use it or that it will be the best option for every student.

If you do have the ability to drive your child yourself, then think long and hard about the answers to the questions above: the safety of the ride; the time your child spends on the bus or waiting for it outside of the classroom.

There are benefits to being on the school premises twice a day that are worth considering, too.

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By Terri Mauro
Terri Mauro is the author of "50 Ways to Support Your Child's Special Education" and contributor to the Parenting Roundabout podcast.