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December 01, 2005  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

NAPT Fuels Up in Austin

Pupil transportation professionals convene to fill up on solutions for key challenges in safety, special needs and — most evidently — fuel concerns.

by SBF staff editors Thomas McMahon, Albert Neal and Steve Hirano

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Clark named other benefits of bio-diesel that result from it burning cleaner, such as longer oil-change intervals, cleaner fuel filters and a cleaner garage. Additionally, he said biodiesel use avoids the haze that had been created each morning when the buses were turned on.

“I’m sure the people in the nursing home across the street appreciate that,” Clark said.

The project appears to have been a complete success, as Clark said his operation has found no problems that can be attributed to use of biodiesel. To avoid problems with freezing, the operation asks that its B20 be delivered to meet certain CFPPs during winter months.

“We begin to take our fuel down in 10-degree increments starting in mid-October,” Clark said. “We try to have it at -20 by winter break.”

Tracking technology
With the increasing availability and use of transportation technologies such as GPS, automated vehicle location and onboard student tracking, bus operators at school districts and contractor companies should have a methodology to determine their needs, test product offerings and evaluate vendors.

Grant Reppert, transportation director at Gwinnett County Public Schools in Lawrenceville, Ga., addressed this issue in a presentation called “Emerging Trends in Technology.”

The needs assessment, Reppert said, is the critical first step. It begins with the following questions: Do I need it now? Would I like to have it? Who cares? “The key is determining if it’s the right fit for your needs,” he said.

As an example, Reppert discussed the possible implementation of automated vehicle and student tracking. The needs assessment would consider the following areas: functional requirement, reason/goal, rationale and possible affected areas.

Under this scenario, a functional requirement might be “ability to alert the driver if the student gets on the wrong bus or gets off at the wrong stop or unassigned stop.” The reason/goal would be safety; the rationale would be to prevent lost students; and the affected area would be operations.

This assessment would need to be made for each functional requirement, which might number more than two dozen. Each requirement would also be subjected to the three questions mentioned earlier.

Once a product need is identified and rationalized, it then requires evaluation and testing. Some of the questions that need to be answered: Can the product satisfy initial functional requirements? Can it satisfy future phase requirements? Will it perform as advertised? Will it work on different bus types in the fleet? Is it compliant with school standards?

The final step is the evaluation of the vendors. Assuming that each vendor offers a product that will satisfy functional requirements, the assessment would follow up with questions such as: How quickly can installations be made? Does the vendor have documented installation procedures? Does the vendor provide effective and responsive technical support? How long has the vendor been in business? “Assess the vendors’ ability to meet your needs, not their marketing,” Reppert said.

The vendor’s history and financial stability are important. Reppert discussed his district’s initial experience with bus tracking technologies five years ago. Many of the companies offering the systems were fledgling at the time and have since gone out of business. Gwinnett was left without any support. “We were alone in the desert,” he said.

Reppert said that although there’s still no guarantee that a vendor will stay in business, today’s technology companies are generally much more solid than those in existence five years ago. The key to evaluating emerging technologies is to have a methodology — and prudence. “If you don’t need it, don’t buy it,” he said.

Alien wheelchairs
Transporting students in wheelchairs that aren’t designed for school bus transport can be a frustrating and challenging experience. It also can test the ingenuity and imagination of all concerned.

“Sometimes the greatest hurdle is our own thinking,” said Jean Zimmerman, who along with Kathy Furneaux, discussed these challenges in a session called “Close Encounters With Alien Wheelchair Securements.”

Zimmerman, supervisor of occupational/physical therapy at the School District of Palm Beach County (Fla.), and Furneaux, executive director of the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute in Syracuse, N.Y., defined four “alien issues”: lap-shoulder belt use, four-point securement where there are no places or difficult places to connect, transporting mobility systems/scooters and wheelchairs transported in the reclined position.

Lap-shoulder belts are problematic when used with wheelchairs. They can interfere with support equipment, be difficult to adjust and prompt resistance from students in wheelchairs.

Students who resist their use must be educated on the necessity of these restraints. “Transportation does not take orders from students,” Zimmerman said. “The belts must be used.” To educate parents on the use of the lap-shoulder belts, she said it’s helpful to demonstrate the restraint system at a PTA meeting.

When possible, the belt system should be placed between the body and any support equipment, such as trays (although it’s best to remove trays if that’s allowed under the student’s individualized education program [IEP]). Also, belts should be adjusted so that they’re loose enough not to interfere with the function of any support equipment. “The best we can do is better than nothing,” Furneaux said.

In regard to wheelchairs with difficult securement points, Zimmerman said she sees several problems: the seat base is sitting directly on the main frame of the wheelchair; the wheelchair is designed so low that securement belts can adjust short; newer chairs create slippage at securement points; and securement is underneath the seat.

Zimmerman and Furneaux offered some possible solutions: Use quick straps or web loops to slide into very tight openings; transfer the student out of the chair if possible; and look for the best, if not perfect, securement point.

Wheelchairs have their own challenges, but special-needs transporters should also be looking at scooters. “They’re going to be in our future,” Zimmerman said.

Scooters and other mobility systems sometimes have securement points that are difficult to reach and have different dynamics. Adding to the problem is that scooters have not been crash-tested.

If possible, students should be taken out of the scooter and transferred to a seat. If that’s not possible, quick straps and web loops are helpful in securing the scooter. Zimmerman said the industry should begin working with scooter manufacturers to seek a solution to bus transportation challenges.

The fourth issue covered was transporting children in reclining positions. Zimmerman said the initial reaction by many school bus operators is to refuse to transport these systems. “But don’t be too quick to say no,” she added. “Try something first.”

Preventing slippage from the wheelchair is the key challenge. Sometimes a crotch-strap system can be used. In addition, tilt-in-space wheelchairs offer more versatility in securing the child.

Furneaux said the four scenarios can necessitate input from professionals outside the bus compound. “We have to look at doing some creative things, but not in a vacuum,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to bring in special-needs professionals, therapists and other resources.”

Problems and solutions
Also on the topic of special needs, Peggy Burns and Pauline Gervais, both of Adams 12 Five Star Schools in Thornton, Colo., led a lively session titled “Creative Problem Solving in Special-Needs Transportation.”

Burns and Gervais presented challenging scenarios that required crucial decisions to ensure safety and avoid legal ramifications.

In one case, a 16-year-old who has epilepsy refuses to ride with an aide on the bus. The student’s seizures are becoming more frequent, but she says it is stigmatizing to have a shadow. Her mom says that she will sign a waiver so the district doesn’t have to worry about it.

With the participation of workshop attendees, Burns and Gervais discussed the risks associated with this situation and suggested reasonable ways to handle it.

It was quickly noted that the transportation department should consult the student’s IEP.

“If the IEP speaks to having a monitor on the bus, that is your guiding light,” Burns said.

One audience member offered this possible solution: Put an aide on the bus, but don’t say that the aide is specifically for that student. Training for the aide would hinge on not shadowing the student, yet knowing the signs of seizure to be on the lookout for.

The consensus in the room was that the waiver would not be a wise option. Burns pointed out that in many states, such a waiver may cancel the parents’ right to sue, but it wouldn’t do the same for the child’s right.

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