Too often, new school bus drivers and attendants are assigned the task of transporting special-education students without adequate training. Thrust into this unfamiliar environment, the new driver must sometimes devise procedures "on the fly." In the process, errors can be made that result in discomfort for the driver and/or student, at the very least, and injuries, driver dismissals and lawsuits, at the worst. To provide drivers with the knowledge and skills they need for special-needs transportation, I searched for a good, basic program. What I found was plenty of technical information, often written by academicians in graduate school-level language that is of little practical use for the new, inexperienced driver. We needed a better delivery system for this information.
Starting from scratch
The opportunity presented itself at a monthly transportation director’s meeting of our regional special-education consortium, the North County Consortium for Special Education (NCCSE). We discussed the issue of inadequate special-education training for new drivers, and all agreed to work to improve the situation. Dennis Smarsty, driver training supervisor, and Kathleen Hoffman, driver instructor, (both from Oceanside) accepted the challenge to create a program from scratch. They collaborated with school bus driver instructors and special-education educators from four school districts in our consortium. All development time was after regular working hours. The school districts were able to provide all but one of the videos listed in the program, and we did obtain permission from the video producers to use them in the classes. Other start-up items purchased include four mannequins from infant to young adult size, a board for students to practice fastening various types of wheelchair tiedowns, safety vests, a booster seat (not recommended), a car seat, an easel and an overhead projector. Total development cost, including supplies and salaries was $1,900. NCCSE also provides $1,000 annually for supplies and incidental expenses. Total class time is 12 hours, delivered in four three-hour evening sessions. All classes are conducted through the Vista Adult Education system, and driver instructors must be cleared by Adult Education to teach there. NCCSE pays $4,000 to Vista Adult Education annually, which covers all fees and driver instructor salaries. There is no cost to students, and participation by students is voluntary. In our district, we made attendance in this class a condition of employment. We will provide six sessions a year for approximately 30 students in each class. All instructors for this class are experienced state-certified instructors. Before teaching their first special-education class, each has audited the class for at least one complete session.
So far, feedback is positive
Three classes have been given since August 1999, with two instructors team-teaching at each class. More than 90 drivers have completed this class to date, and at the end of each session we ask each attendee to complete an evaluation form. All feedback has been positive, and comments can be summarized as "well presented," and "well-developed curriculum." Senior drivers who voluntarily attended said the same thing and added that even they learned a few things.
John Farr is transportation director at Oceanside (Calif.) Unified School District.