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March 01, 1999  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

5 Easy Pieces to a Better Special-Needs Program

These tips on training, equipment, communication, information and program monitoring can improve the safety and efficiency of your operation.

by Steve Hirano, Executive Editor, and Kathy Furneaux

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4. Pertinent Information
It's difficult, if not impossible, to do your job unless you have all of the information that you need to know. That sounds like an obvious truism, but special-education drivers often operate without key information, such as the disabilities of students on their bus. To close this gap, the transportation supervisor should strive to become part of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting. Information gathered at this meeting can help transportation staff understand the challenges of the child's specific needs on the school bus. The transportation supervisor should exchange information, not just gather it. For example, the student's teacher can be a great resource, but only if the transportation director shares enough information about how different the school bus environment is from the classroom. In other words, the two worlds have to come together to meet the child's needs in both environments. The struggle to fully inform the driver of a child's disability can be challenging in light of confidentiality entitlements. It's up to the transportation supervisor to heighten awareness about the driver's "need to know" about a student's disability. In addition, the driver should be knowledgeable about expected behaviors. For example, if a student has a seizure disorder, the driver needs specific information about what behaviors accompany one of his seizures so she can react quickly. The driver also needs to know how the student's seizures differ from another student's. In one case, emergency medical intervention may be needed immediately; in another, the situation may be much less severe and may not require outside assistance. Of course, once the driver has information about a child's disability, she needs to be reminded that it's confidential. It should not be talked about over coffee in the driver's lounge or at the local laundromat. It also helps if the drivers know something about the home life of the students. Even a thumbnail sketch can be helpful. For example, if a student's home environment is not stable and supportive, the stress could cause the child to act out on the school bus. Without that background information, the driver might write a referral. However, the right outcome might be that Johnny see a counselor.

5. Program Monitoring
A successful monitoring program starts with the drivers and assistants. If a transportation director does not meet regularly with them and listen closely to their concerns, then feedback at all other levels will not have any foundation. Regular conversations with drivers and monitors can help to alert a transportation director to problems in training, equipment and communication. Drivers and monitors will also let him know if they feel they have the necessary options they need to fulfill their jobs. Also, it never hurts for the transportation director to solicit parents for feedback, asking them about service levels and any other issues that need to be addressed. It's a good idea to invite parents to call about their concerns (and to ensure that the department's phone system can handle any additional traffic). This is an example of perforation. The letter punches a hole that allows the parent to convey information. And that feedback can only help to improve the program. Transportation directors, drivers and monitors should also consider attending open houses. This is another opportunity to share information with parents.

Practical Magic
This is a bonus, the sixth "P." The best special-needs operations display an indefinable magic, with the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. To reach that level, however, requires putting together all of the pieces with a combined effort and team spirit. The transportation director, the drivers, the monitors, the parents, the mechanics, the schools - all parts of the whole have to be working together to satisfy the transportation needs of students with disabilities.

Kathy Furneaux is a Program Associate at the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute

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