Requirements for Program Transportation Services

Grantee and delegate agencies must comply with transportation regulations if they decide to transport children. This resource may be used by Head Start staff to better understand federal requirements for program transportation services.

Head Start programs are not required to provide transportation services. However, there are key regulations in Transportation, 45 CFR § 1303.70 (2016) with which grantee and delegate agencies are required to comply:

  • Help parents arrange transportation
  • Provide pedestrian transport and riding safety education
  • Only release children to individuals who have been authorized in writing by parent/guardian

Providing transportation services is a local program decision. Factors that programs may consider when determining whether to provide transportation services include:

  • Effects on enrollment
  • Program policies (e.g., neediest families)
  • Effects on parent participation
  • Cost of transportation
  • Other transportation options for families
  • Possibilities for partnering with other transportation service providers 

Review key elements of the Head Start transportation requirements that must be met:

  • Meeting specifications of school buses or allowable alternate vehicles (AAVs)
  • Hiring qualified drivers
  • Providing a bus monitor on buses that transport Head Start children
  • Providing safety education
  • Establishing routes
  • Child safety restraint systems
  • Coordinating with community partners to collaborate on transportation services
  • Conducting training for transportation personnel
  • Offering pedestrian safety training for parents and children

In addition to the requirements listed above, there are several requirements for hiring transportation personnel. Qualifications for bus drivers include:

  • A commercial driver's license (CDL) in states which confer them
  • Meet state, local, and Head Start Program Performance Standards 1302.90, 1302.92, and 1303.72 requirements
  • Drug and alcohol testing
  • Criminal records check (1302.90(b))
  • Driving background check through the State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or National Driver Register

To meet the recordkeeping requirement for bus drivers, their personnel file must include:

  • Certificate of medical examination to determine physical ability to operate a school bus, per state requirements
  • Application for employment
  • Driving background check through the state DMV or National Driver Register
  • Copy of CDL license

Each school bus that transports Head Start children is required to have at least one bus monitor on board at all times when children are present. They must accompany every child when boarding or exiting the bus. Bus monitors must wear appropriate safety restraints while the vehicle is in motion, unless assisting children. Bus monitors are trained in safety-related topics.

Training requirements for bus drivers include:

  • Classroom instruction and on-the-road skills training prior to transporting children
  • Safe operation of a fixed route
  • First aid and emergency situations
  • Routine maintenance and safety checks and recordkeeping
  • Additional training topics as outlined in the Head Start Program Performance Standards
  • Transporting children with disabilities

Training requirements for bus monitors include:

  • Child boarding and exiting procedures
  • Use of child restraint systems
  • Responding to emergencies
  • Emergency evacuation procedures
  • Use of special equipment
  • Required paperwork
  • Child pick-up and release procedures
  • How to do pre- and post-trip vehicle checks to ensure that there are no safety hazards and no child is left on the bus

Training requirements for parents and children include:

  • Vehicle evacuation drills (at least three per year)
  • Danger zones around vehicle
  • Pedestrian safety training
  • Classroom activities
  • Safe riding, boarding, and crossing

Agencies providing transportation services must ensure that each vehicle used to transport children is equipped with the appropriate child safety restraint systems. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has established safety standards that require motor vehicle manufacturers to improve the compatibility of child restraints and vehicles and make them easier to install. Local programs are required to ensure:

Each agency providing transportation services must ensure that the safety of the children being transported is the primary consideration when planning fixed routes. The following aspects must be in place:

  • Planned fixed routes
  • Transit time must be kept under one hour whenever possible
  • At no time may the vehicle capacity be exceeded
  • Vehicles must not be required to back up or make U-turns unless unavoidable
  • Stops must be located to minimize traffic disruptions
  • Drivers must know what to do if an emergency disrupts the route, including a planned emergency route

Agencies are also required to ensure that vehicles used to provide such services are maintained in safe operating condition at all times. At a minimum, Head Start programs are required to:

  • Conduct a thorough annual inspection
  • Ensure systematic preventive maintenance
  • Conduct daily pre- and post-trip inspections
  • Equip the vehicle with a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, reverse beepers, communication system, and belt cutter

School buses or AAVs adapted or designed for the transportation of children with disabilities (45 CFR § 1303.75 (2016)) must be available. This requirement does not apply to the transportation of children receiving home-based services unless school buses or AAVs are used to transport the other children served under the home-based option by the grantee.

Each agency must specify any special transportation requirements for a child with a disability when preparing and following the child's Individual Education Program (IEP) or Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP). Key aspects include:

  • Pick-up and drop-off
  • Seating arrangements
  • Equipment needs
  • Special assistance
  • Special training for bus drivers and monitors

For additional resources and information, visit the Transportation section on the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC).

You can also find updates on the School Transportation News website.