District purchases first wheelchair lift van

The DeForest Area School District recently purchased its first wheelchair lift van to transport students with disabilities. Staff attended a training session on May 19 to learn how to operate the vehicle. They will use the van to transport students to community employment and essential skillbuilding locations as a component of the transition preparation activities required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Skillbuilding activities include learning how to access community resources such as stores, restaurants and government services. 

In the past, the District leased a non-wheelchair vehicle from Johnson Sales & Service to transport nonambulatory high school students with disabilities. They also rented a wheelchair lift bus from First Student when needed. According to David Perrodin, the school district’s Director of Student Services, “With the growing legal requirements for transitioning students with disabilities, the increased number of students with mobility disabilities needing intensive transition services, and the overall expansion of the community-based educational experiences program at the high school, the District made the move to purchase their own vehicle. Purchasing the van will save the District $6,000 annually in transportation leasing services.” 

The Ford 350 extended van was purchased from Bell Ford in Arlington. Abby Vans Inc. in Neilsville, Wisconsin, completed the rear wheelchair lift conversion of the vehicle. Both were funded with federal stimulus dollars for special education, and the van can only be used to transport children with disabilities.  The van can transport a driver, seven non-ambulatory persons, and one person in a wheelchair. School staff will be able to operate the van without a commercial driver’s license. 

“Special education teachers Barb Schmidtke and Susan Shannon, along with other high school staff, have worked closely with local businesses and organizations to build impressive employment and skill-building sites across the community. This is an effective, efficient model that meets the needs of students and employers,”said Perrodin. While First Student has been nothing short of outstanding to work with in the past, it simply is more efficient to use our own wheelchair van to transport students instead of a large bus with a commercially- licensed driver,”he added. 

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