MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — In workshops on Monday at the National Association for Pupil Transportation conference, speakers tackled timely, complex topics and attendees actively participated in the discussions.
In the morning, Peggy Burns and Linda Bluth teamed up to present a workshop titled "Dusting Off Your Special Needs Policy and Procedures." Bluth, from the Maryland Department of Education, helped to drive the discussion, introducing various hypothetical and real-life situations; Burns, of Education Compliance Group, provided legal analysis and advice in response to each case. Both supplemented the discussion with anecdotes from their past experiences.
The workshop covered the ins and outs of developing and auditing special-needs transportation policies, including determining eligibility, providing the least restrictive environment for special-needs passengers, the communication of crucial information between school departments, cost issues and responding to parent concerns.
Bluth and Burns both emphasized the need to create policies that anticipate situations impacting student safety. "It's normally an incident that drives things," Bluth said.
"You don't want drivers to have to be in a position to make a decision then and there," Burns said. "You have to be that first line of advocacy for your people."
Both also encouraged transportation directors to ask parents about student needs that impact the school bus ride, but without infringing on medical privacy. Getting this information ties to communication between the transportation department and other school officials, including school nurses and other administrators. "This is the internal war we've been fighting forever," Burns noted. "It is the school system's responsibility to notify those who need to know."
Burns' afternoon session, "The Law Looks at Training," highlighted the importance of protecting department employees from liability in a lawsuit through training programs.
She reported that many cases she's seen going to court in recent months have touched on what training has been done at school districts and where the failure to train may have led directly to student injury. Topics in the discussion included governmental immunity and how to determine whether training programs are effective.
Burns also discussed the importance of training mid-level managers on disability, performance evaluation, hiring and supervisory issues. "What middle-level managers say is regarded as the word of the school district [in court]," she explained.