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N.A.I.S. Seeks Exemption From Bus Provision

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Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

The Clinton Administration has agreed to support an exemption for independent schools from requirements that all their school buses be accessible to the disabled.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has agreed to publish a Federal Register notice seeking comment on the proposed exemption, officials of the National Association of Independent Schools told attendees at its annual conference, held at Walt Disney World here late last month.

The regulation in question, promulgated under the Americans with Disabilities Act, requires independent schools that buy or lease school buses designed to hold 16 passengers or more to insure that the buses are accessible to the disabled, including those in wheelchairs, said James T. Kaull, the director of business and development services for the N.A.I.S.

Public schools and religiously controlled schools are specifically covered under other regulations, and are thus exempt from the requirement. But independent schools are required to abide by rules that cover "fixed route'' systems such as airport shuttle buses.

The N.A.I.S. has been trying since 1990 to obtain an exemption, Mr. Kaull said.

"Our schools are perfectly willing to have one bus available for someone in a wheelchair,'' he said in an interview. "But it was really ridiculous to assure all new buses were lift-equipped.''

In addition to the cost associated with obtaining buses equipped with wheelchair lifts, Mr. Kaull said, the lifts mean a loss of about six seats on each such bus.

One school, he said, estimated that complying with the provision would cost $150,000.

'Goals 2000'

In another federal matter, private school advocates are carefully monitoring Congressional action on the proposed "goals 2000: educate America act,'' which was expected to reach a House-Senate conference committee this week, said Jefferson G. Burnett, the director of government relations for the N.A.I.S.

They are lobbying for a provision in the Senate version of the bill that would include a private school representative among those eligible for membership on state panels that are to draft standards for curriculum content and student performance.

The House version specifies only public school educators and community and business leaders as eligible for membership.

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