The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services recently issued a position paper that focuses on the importance of driver training in ensuring the safe transportation of children to and from school and school-related activities. “Drivers are responsible not only for the discipline of the children on the bus, but also any medical or other emergencies that may arise during the trip to and from school or school-related activity,” it says. The paper also includes an important message about drivers of special-needs students. “Many school bus drivers must attend to the unique requirements of students with special needs, which frequently requires additional special training and dedication.” Once again, we’re made aware of the need for additional school bus driver training, particularly for drivers of special-needs students. There are numerous training programs available in the industry, but there are few that offer certification and none that address the many skills and requirements of a special-needs driver.
Starting a local program
Conducting wheelchair safety checks and recognizing chairs that are not appropriate for seating on the school bus
Performing pre-trip inspections
Checking to be sure that tie-down systems are in good condition (no worn or frayed straps)
Verifying that straps are securely anchored
Having a belt-cutter available for use in the case of an emergency evacuation
Loading and unloading passengers in wheelchairs
Positioning wheelchairs on the lift platform
Operating the lift, both automatically and manually
Using tie-down systems
Caring for and maintaining securement systems
Developing a written plan for emergency evacuation Each of these components is essential to the safe transportation of students using wheeled mobility devices for mobile seating on school buses. Certification validates a driver’s expertise in specialized transportation. More certification programs should be developed on both the local and state levels to recognize the achievements and expertise that many school bus drivers possess.
Because so few national or state certification programs are available, some local school districts have created their own. The transportation department at Lafayette (Ind.) School Corporation has developed a certification program to validate a driver’s understanding of how to transport children who use wheeled mobility devices. The six-hour program is designed to educate drivers in the operation and use of the special equipment required to transport students using these devices. The program consists of three hours in a classroom and three hours of hands-on training on the bus. Successful performance in all course activities leads to certification. The objective is to give drivers a means to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise in all aspects of transporting students who use wheeled mobility devices. To qualify for certification, the driver or bus attendant must demonstrate an understanding of local, state and federal laws as well as mandates and guidelines that apply to wheelchair use as mobile seating on a school bus. Both in the classroom and on the bus, the curriculum for driver certification includes learning proper procedures for the following:
Cheryl Wolf is special-needs transportation coordinator for Lafayette School Corporation in Indiana.