Special Needs Transportation

Special-needs institute paves new ground for Texas operators.

Posted on August 1, 2001

The inaugural two-day Summer Institute on Transporting Students with Disabilities was held June 7 and 8 at the Region IV Education Service Center (ESC) in Houston. Kathryn Cook, lead consultant for Related Services at the Region IV Education Service Center, spearheaded the drive to develop the institute. SBF Senior Editor Sandra Matke spoke to Cook about her planning process and asked her to reflect on the success of this event, a first in her state.

SBF: What did you hope to accomplish via this inaugural special-needs institute?

Kathryn Cook: In order for one to learn about transporting students with disabilities, some of the best resources seem to be teaming with transportation professionals, attending conferences and reading professional journals, such as SBF magazine. While Special Education Services at Region IV ESC offers a wide array of staff development events for our districts, I noticed we were not currently offering training on transporting students with disabilities. After discussions with our department director, Jackie Townsend, a survey was sent to Transportation and Special Education Directors in our region. The response was very positive, so Region IV ESC proceeded with plans for a two-day summer institute.

SBF: Do you feel the event was a success?

Cook: Yes! We had 178 participants in attendance, representing 58 Texas school districts. The evaluations were very positive, and participants had many favorable comments during our two days together. Participants shared what they liked and also what they would like to see at a future event. They found the content valuable and appreciated the focus of national perspectives. Our presenters encouraged interactive dialog, which created opportunities for participants to exchange information.

SBF: What were the main topics addressed at the institute?

Cook: The content was comprised of major topics common to both transporters and special educators. The format included keynote speeches, panel discussions and break-out sessions. Topics covered bus safety issues, the development of guidelines that support special-needs student transportation practices, preschooler issues (including safety seats and vests), wheelchair securement, driver-attendant teamwork and the importance of developing positive student-driver re-lationships.

SBF: After hatching the idea for the institute, how did you go about planning for it?

Cook: We received a 49 percent response rate to the survey, which was very helpful to our planning process. Analysis of the responses from both special education and transportation directors varied by three points or less in terms of those topics they felt were important. The agenda was developed from the survey information. Using professional contacts and national conference information, a select group of presenters was invited to come to the event.

SBF: Was the coordination process difficult? How many people were involved in putting the event together?

Cook: There were 40 to 50 people involved in the actual implementation of the institute. My role was to plan and coordinate the content as well as the event details and also to anticipate the needs of presenters and participants. Because the business of the Region IV ESC is to provide staff development and technical assistance to local education agencies, there is a highly skilled group of tal-ented professionals available to provide assistance, so the event went very smoothly. It was also helpful that Region IV ESC has taken a leadership role in providing school bus driver training, and that we are equipped with state-of-the-art technology. These factors, combined with much time and effort, contrib-uted to an efficient and successful coordination process.

SBF: Do you plan to reprise the institute next year?

Cook: A repeat event is under consideration. The evaluations indicated sufficient interest for another event, so we plan to propose another two-day institute for next summer. We also plan to offer statewide participation.

SBF: What will you do differently next time around?

Cook: We are planning single-day events that are more content-specific in the form of a Transporting Students with Disabilities Series. Three sessions will be offered for the 2001-2002 school year - IEP Team Building, Behavior and Safety Issues and an OT/PT Transporter Forum, for therapists and transporters to work on boarding and securing students in wheelchairs, preschoolers and medically fragile students. The sessions will take place in the fall, winter and early spring and will be marketed statewide to administrators of both transportation and special education. We anticipate the year to conclude with another two-day summer institute, once again covering broader topics with a national focus.

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