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Fewer aides are on buses to help students with special needs

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 27 2013 6:49 p.m. MDT

Risae Carlson, left, helps her 4-year-old son Caleb get off the school bus while the bus driver (right) looks on. Carlson is concerned for the safety of children with special needs, including her son who has autism, because the Alpine School District cut the number of aides on school buses.

Sam Penrod, Deseret News

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OREM — A loss of federal money for special education means fewer school aides will be on buses transporting special needs students in the Alpine School District.

The lack of aides on buses has one parent concerned that the bus driver, who has to focus on driving, may not be able to attend to students’ needs.

Risae Carlson loves to sit on the porch and watch for her son's bus. Caleb is 4 years old and attends a special preschool at Geneva Elementary that helps him with his developmental delays due to autism.

"Our bus driver came over and told us what time he would be picking (Caleb) up and informed us that we would be getting him on and putting him in his harness and taking him off the bus,” Carlson said.

While she is always there to help Caleb get on and off the bus, her concern is for the children as they go to and from school.

"Our son has high-functioning autism, but still, if a bee lands on his leg, he is going to freak out and start screaming,” she said. “I'm concerned that the kids will have issues, behavioral issues or medical issues, that the bus driver can't attend to while he's driving.”

The Alpine School District saw a 5 percent cut in federal dollars for special education as a result of the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.

The district had to balance between needs in the classrooms and on the buses, and which routes have an aide. Last year, there were 100 aides who rode on the buses with specials needs students. This year, there are only 67 to cover the routes.

"There was a prioritization that we put into place, and the priorities started with our most medically fragile kids,” Alpine District spokesman John Patten said. “They are tough decisions for sure.”

District officials say special needs bus drivers get additional training to respond to their students.

Still, Caleb's parents worry special needs children without an aide on the bus will struggle, and they hope the district will find another solution.

Because the school year is just beginning, district officials are still evaluating the routes with and without aides and will make adjustments as needed.

Email: spenrod@deseretnews.com

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