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September 01, 2006  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Perspectives on Innovation: 50 Years of Change

Although school buses haven’t changed radically in appearance since 1956, the past five decades have brought about tremendous operational and regulatory changes. Here, several of these changes are discussed by the most knowledgeable and respected people in the industry.

by Ted Finlayson-Schueler

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Improvements in Driver Training

By Ted Finlayson-Schueler

Special Report 222, published in 1989 by the Transportation Research Board, identified pupil safety training as the most cost-effective way to reduce student fatalities. I’m not sure why they didn’t consider school bus driver training as a potential source of fatality reduction, but history suggests that it is perhaps the most important factor in improving school bus safety.

Severe school bus accidents in the late 1960s and early ‘70s prompted the federal government and the newly formed National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to look at school buses and their operation. The most widely discussed outcomes of this attention are federal motor vehicle safety standards and Standard 17, known now in a kinder and gentler era as Guideline 17.

The event that seems to receive less attention, but may have had the biggest impact, was the 1974 dissemination of a school bus driver training curriculum that was introduced to representatives of state education agencies in a series of NHTSA workshops across the country.

These events introduced a curriculum for 40 hours of school bus driver training and guidelines for preparing instructors. To give credit where credit is due, my understanding is that the curriculum was one that had been largely developed by the state of Iowa. These workshops and the new curriculum came with the promise of federal dollars to implement the curriculum within each state. This package deal — money plus program — led many states to create required driver training programs for the first time. In my state of New York, state training curricula and instructor training had existed since at least the 1940s but had always been recommended, not required.

This new program, introduced in the environment of these severe crashes, coincided with another new undertaking, the Kansas Department of Transportation’s National School Bus Loading and Unloading Survey in 1970. This survey, now under the Kansas Department of Education, has tracked loading-zone fatalities for 35 years. The surveys of the early 1970s showed as many as 75 pupil loading-zone fatalities in one year, a number that now seems to have stabilized at 10 to 12 fatalities a year. The radical 85 percent drop in fatalities mirrors the adaptation of this new curriculum in many states — the survey and the accidents provided the motivation and the curriculum provided the means.

Focus on PowerPoint
Driver training happens in many different ways in different states. In some places, employees of a state agency provide all the training. In other states, employees in local operations are prepared to be the trainers. In all of these settings, new technologies are making changes in how training is delivered. PowerPoint has become ubiquitous and allows overheads, TV/VCR and flipcharts to be combined in one slick package. A decent laptop and projector can be purchased for $1,500, where once the projector alone was $4,000 to $6,000.

Oklahoma developed online training to serve the remote districts on the panhandle. A New York State regional educational cooperative — the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES — is using video conferencing with simultaneous locations across an area that includes Hamilton County, where population density is 3.1 people per square mile.

Anyone who has endured a PowerPoint presentation where the presenter read his presentation off the screen with his back to the audience knows that technology does not guarantee or even automatically suggest good instruction. The technology can keep the focus in the front of the room and limit vital group interaction and small group activities. As presentation technology, online education, distance learning, video-conferencing and other new modes of instruction are introduced, they must be examined to be sure that the key component of driver training — the heartfelt commitment of the instructor to student safety — is not lost. We know that 90 percent of an instructor’s message is nonverbal. In school bus driver training, the nonverbal message has been and must remain, “Keep kids safe.”

Flexibility is key
As we review new ways of teaching and learning, we must remain flexible and consider all the options, ascertaining whether the new models accomplish the original goals of our driver-training programs. Driver education, along with improvements in bus design and well-planned student training, has made the loading-zone tragedies of the 1970s ancient history. The lives of hundreds of children have been saved. We must not resist change out of fear, but we also should not embrace technology simply to keep up with the fashion.

Ted Finlayson-Schueler is president of Safety Rules!, a consulting firum that specializes in school bus safety. He can be reached at [email protected].



Federal Impact on Special-Needs Transportation

By Peggy Burns

Over the past 50 years, the impact of federal law — the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, formerly the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 [EAHCA]), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and, most recently, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) — has been sometimes indirect, sometimes dramatic and focused, and occasionally subtle and complicated.

The background
Originally, the provision of school transportation was a local issue. Transportation was not provided for even very young children who had to walk long distances to school. In fact, for the first 30 years of the 20th century, many state statutes exempted children who lived more than 2 miles from school from compulsory attendance laws rather than transport them. Special treatment for disabled students was generally not a consideration.

The quality of education itself was not addressed by the feds until 1958, with passage of the National Defense Education Act. Education of students with disabilities (let alone their transportation)? That would have to wait. Before passage of the EAHCA, more than half of disabled children were routinely excluded from school altogether.

Meaningful change
While it is true that Section 504 and the IDEA provided the foundation for inclusion of students with special needs in our schools, and ultimately on our buses, true change was the product of judicial and agency decisions interpreting those laws. A snapshot of innovations in special-needs transportation through the lens of federal laws involves several themes:


  • Individualized decision making.


  • An “equal playing field” for disabled students.


  • The intersection of transportation and student achievement.


    Individualized decision making. Throughout its revisions and amendments, the intent of the IDEA was case-by-case determination of the needs of each disabled child. The issues of provision of transportation at all for disabled students, as well as the method, pick-up and drop-off points, equipment and personnel considerations are to be determined with reference to individual student needs. While Section 504 requires that students with disabilities be treated fairly as a group, both that law and the IDEA mandate that “group-think” be rejected when it comes to the “whethers” and “hows” of special-needs transportation. A key innovation produced by recent decisions by courts and hearing officers is the recognition that not all students with disabilities must be transported in the same way.

    Equal playing field. Federal legislation has underscored that when transportation is available to non-disabled students, it must also be provided to students with disabilities, and in ways that do not stigmatize or separate. This is a significant innovation. Watch for increasing concern and potential impact because of data from a recent federal report that K-12 special-needs transportation accounts for nearly 28 percent of total school transportation expenditures.

    The road to learning. With the advent of increased focus of accountability, perennial issues like length of ride and stop location are evaluated under the twin lenses of fairness and the impact of the student’s needs on educational achievement. The intersection between transportation and student achievement for all students, but particularly for students with disabilities, may be the greatest innovation brought about by federal law. 2006 IDEA Regulations, recent cases decided under Section 504, both flavored by NCLB’s insistence on results over process, will continue this new direction. Requests for transportation for students with disabilities will be analyzed with respect to the impact of the requested transportation on progress towards student goals as defined in individualized education programs and Section 504 accommodation plans. If transportation, or the lack of transportation, is a barrier to learning, change must be made. If transportation, however provided, does not negatively impact student learning, it may not have to be changed. While that is an oversimplification, it is an abiding theme in newer decisions.

    Peggy Burns is president of Education Compliance Group Inc. in Lafayette, Colo. She recently released a new driver training video called “Steering Clear of Liability: Training for School Bus Drivers.” For more information about the video, call (888) 604-6141 or send an e-mail to [email protected].

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