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Use of taxis for special needs students unsettles parents

SIOUX FALLS (AP) -- Sioux Falls schools are using taxi cabs to shuttle a growing number of students with special education or behavioral needs between buildings, and the practice is unsettling to some parents.

SIOUX FALLS (AP) - Sioux Falls schools are using taxi cabs to shuttle a growing number of students with special education or behavioral needs between buildings, and the practice is unsettling to some parents.

Parent Jennifer Miller, who has an autistic son, worries that taxi drivers aren't trained to work with children with special needs. Parent Renee Bostick chooses to drive her autistic son between programs rather than have him transported in an unsupervised cab with a strange driver.

"I wouldn't have minded a cab if (drivers) had training, and if there was an aide or another individual in the cab," she told the Argus Leader newspaper.

Cab drivers move about 160 students each day. The school district paid a taxi company about $200,000 in the last fiscal year.

Superintendent Brian Maher said he initially also had concerns when he took the job last year, but that his fears were assuaged when he saw the district's requirements for cab drivers. They undergo local and national criminal background checks similar to school bus drivers, and taxi drivers are banned from touching students or using foul language around them.

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"There are expectations and training that go into play for the drivers transporting our students," Maher said.

Sioux Falls isn't the only school district that has used taxis but it might be the only district in the state still using them, according to Tim Neyhart, executive director for South Dakota Advocacy Services, which helps people with disabilities. Cab rides aren't inherently a bad way to move students, he said, but issues arise when parents aren't informed or consulted.

"It would seem to me to be a good practice to have the conversation with the parents so they understood what was happening," Neyhart said.

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