As we all know, the challenge of transporting students with disabilities gets more demanding every day. Staying ahead of the curve requires a commitment to constantly evolving the knowledge, skills and training of the entire staff. While each school district or contractor has its own unique challenges, there are fundamental attributes that all good programs share in providing safe and efficient transportation service for special-education students. This article breaks down these attributes into five categories:
1. Pro-active training
2. Proper equipment
3. Pertinent information
4. Precise communication
5. Program monitoring
For obvious reasons, we call these the five P's. Keep in mind that this article is not designed to be comprehensive. Our hope is that it will provide you with tips and insights that will help you improve your transportation program, even on an incremental level.
1. Pro-active Training
Does your training program provide drivers and monitors of buses that transport students with special needs (for the sake of brevity, if not accuracy and sensitivity, we will hereafter use terms such as special-needs drivers and special-education buses) with more information and instruction than they need to do their jobs properly? Or are they given the minimum amount of necessary information to meet their job responsibilities? Special-needs drivers should know more - much more - than they'll ever need to know. That means that your training program needs to be rigorous in its diversity and depth. It also should be flexible and expandable to meet changing needs of special-needs students. In addition to the basic driver training program, your department should be presenting information to special-education drivers and monitors on the specific needs of their passengers. When necessary, the transportation director should help his staff gather the information. Many times they don't know how to approach teachers or physical or occupational therapists for information about a particular disability. This is where the director, who often has established a relationship with these people, can help. She can approach them on a different level and obtain the data much more quickly. Community resources also can be tapped for pro-active training. Doctors and nurses at local hospitals can be recruited for in-service presentations on a variety of topics. So can occupational and physical therapists. For specialized training on chronic diseases, consider approaching national organizations such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Autism Society of American and the Epilepsy Foundation of America. Their representatives are always eager to help you learn and will gladly send you material on how to assist children with these diseases. And their local affiliates might be able to send a representative to your facility for a hands-on training session.
Look beyond labels
Drivers and monitors also need to be trained to look beyond labels. For example, autism may be characterized by severe problems with communication and behavior. But each child who is autistic has his own functioning levels and capabilities. So if you put five autistic children on the same bus, you should expect that each of them will behave somewhat differently. Knowing the capability of each student is very important. Drivers and monitors need to pay attention to these details and perhaps even document them, depending on district policy. Another method of expanding the knowledge base is to have your drivers, monitors and driver trainers attend state and national pupil transportation conferences. Kentucky and Utah hold annual conferences devoted specifically to special-needs transportation. You might want to contact your state pupil transportation or contractor association about the possibility of creating a similar event.