The overall aim of the Ministry of Education’s school transport policy is to
“…provide assistance to students who, because of the geographic location of their home or their special needs, do not have ready access to transport to and from their nearest school.”
When you have a child with special needs, the need to have assistance with transport to and from school can be even greater.
Whose responsibility is it to make sure a child with special needs gets to school?
With any child that attends school, it is first and foremost the responsibility of the parents/caregivers to ensure they get to school.
For children with special needs there is government assistance called SESTA or Special Education School Transport. If a student is eligible for SESTA, then the responsibility for getting to school is shared between the parents and the school.
So what is SESTA?
Special Education School Transport (SESTA) is assistance that intends to allow a child with special needs to attend the nearest most suitable school for that child. It may be that the nearest school is not necessarily the best one to suit their needs which means travelling further. SESTA allows this to happen if the parents/caregivers are unable to move the child from home to school and back.
There are two factors taken into account when eligibility for SESTA is decided –
- Is the school nearest to the student’s home able to meet their needs?
- Does the student fall within the mobility and safety criteria?
A student can be deemed eligible for either “full” or “limited” SESTA.
Full SESTA entitlement means the student must attend the nearest school to their home that is able to meet their special education needs.
Limited SESTA entitlement is given when the student meets the mobility and safety criteria, but attends a school which is not the nearest to their home.
Assistance is given in a number of ways. The student will either be given a place on a school bus, have a special education transport service contracted to them (this is either a taxi, minibus or total mobility vehicle), or be entitled to a conveyance allowance.
Who is eligible for SESTA?
To be eligible for SESTA a student must:
- Be aged between 5 and 21 years;
- Meet the mobility and/or safety eligibility criteria;
- Be on the roll of a state or state integrated school; and
- Be attending the nearest school or setting that is able to meet their special education needs.
Meeting the mobility and safety eligibility
Students whose mobility prevents them from getting to and from school on their own means they are eligible for SESTA. A student’s mobility prevents them from doing this when:
- there needs to be a wheelchair or other medical/specialist equipment accompanying them to school;
- they are unable to make their way to school on their own, eg. if they can’t walk on their own, unassisted.
The safety criteria work in much the same way as the mobility criteria. If there is a safety issue which prevents the student from getting to and from school, then that student meets the safety criteria.
A safety need is “where a significant risk of harm or danger to the student, or others, exists during the passage to and from school.” (Ministry of Education Info Sheet).
What does the ‘nearest school to suit their needs’ mean?
When you have a child with special education needs you may have choices about where you choose for your child to attend school. There are options such as mainstream schools, special schools, satellite classes of special schools, and units that are attached to schools that may be suitable. Obviously suitability depends on what your child’s special needs are.
Because eligibility for SESTA depends on the student attending the nearest school to suit their needs, the age range, gender, and special character of the school will all be taken into account when deciding which school is best suited to their needs.
The nearest school to suit the student’s needs is determined in a couple of ways. The educational needs of the student are assessed and then matched to the best, nearest school or education provider able to meet these needs.