Any touching related to specific student handling requirements on the special-needs bus is appropriate and should be done in a timely manner. Any touching by the driver team that is not related to those requirements is inappropriate.
Special-needs buses (lift or non-lift) should have video monitoring in place as much to protect the driver team from false accusations of inappropriate touching as to document inappropriate student behavior.
Here are examples of appropriate and inappropriate touching on the special-needs bus.
Touch: Applying first aid or CPR when a child requires it and it is based on the specific training and certifications completed.
Don’t touch: Doing extraordinary measures during first aid or CPR that go beyond specific training. Or, performing any first aid or CPR when your certification has expired. (Read carefully and fully understand the Good Samaritan laws of your state regarding personal liability when using first aid and/or CPR.)
Touch: Applying specific behavior management strategies for which there are written guidelines for the bus that were provided by the IEP committee on a student-specific basis.
Don’t touch: Using specific behavior management strategies for a specific student that were not written as guidelines generated by the IEP committee.
Touch: Any emergency on or near the special-needs bus that clearly warrants student evacuation by the safest bus exit and by the most moderate means possible. Appropriate touching examples are:
Don’t touch: Some of these activities could be inappropriate during an emergency bus evacuation:
Touch: Routine greeting of students by the driver or bus monitor outside the bus or at the stairwell must be age appropriate. For instance, kindergarteners and preschoolers are often huggers of everyone. Being hugged by a youngster is appropriate touching so long as the adult does not initiate or request it from the child.
Don’t touch: Being hugged by a fifth-grader or older is not appropriate touching when a handshake and a verbal greeting will do just as well. Middle- or high-school student “huggers” can be politely declined. Turning to the side when the child attempts to hug and indicating that you would rather shake hands leaves most students unoffended and still appropriately greeted at the bus stairwell.
Touch: Adults who do not routinely handle a wheelchair usually do not understand the touching that is required to secure the chair and the student in it. Driver teams may not be able to effectively secure a student in a wheelchair using occupant restraint without also touching the student.
Don’t touch: Any touching by the driver team that is not related to the use of occupant-restraint belts or the securement of the wheelchair using the four-way tiedown system is inappropriate.
Touch: Incidental touching is not inappropriate touching. Non-lift school buses have 14-to-16-inch-wide aisles, which makes it very difficult for the bus monitor to walk up and down the aisle while the bus is moving without brushing up against someone along the way.
Don’t touch: Driver teams sometimes count students on board by lightly touching them on the head with a paper or their hand. This is both demeaning and unnecessary touching that is very inappropriate.
If you don’t have to touch a student on the special-needs bus, then don’t. If you must in order to keep him or her safe, secured and appropriately seated, then touch as needed. Avoid incidental touching as much as possible. Make touching purposeful, task-specific and effective to help students when help is needed.
Dr. Ray Turner is a special-needs transportation expert and author of numerous books and newsletters. For more information, e-mail him at [email protected] or visit his Website, www.whitebuffalopress.com.