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

Appropriate touching on the special-needs bus

by Dr. Ray Turner

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  • Cutting seat belts, occupant restraints and wheelchair tiedowns that can easily be released, that are not jammed and, once released, allow the student to exit the bus by walking out.


  • Lifting students who can walk by themselves to the designated emergency exit.


  • Allowing students to exit the bus through an exit that harms them more than an available exit that is safer would. For example: Using side windows that swing open to afford an emergency exit may cause more injury to students and adults alike than using another exit. Using a side window exit by going “feet first and belly down” minimizes injury, but, at the same time, exiting there results in falling 7 feet to the ground.


  • Using roof vents for an emergency exit when the bus is not on its side is dangerous. The roof vent is more than 7 feet above the bus floor. Most students cannot be lifted over an adult’s head to be placed on the outside roof of the bus through the vent exit. Most cannot pull themselves up through the roof vent even with adult help by being boosted underneath. Any student who is unconscious cannot be lifted above the adult’s head and placed on the bus roof through the vent. If a student does make it to the bus roof, there is a sloping surface on each side and a 14-foot fall to the ground.


    Touch: Routine greeting of students by the driver or bus monitor outside the bus or at the stairwell must be age appropriate. For instance, kindergarteners and preschoolers are often huggers of everyone. Being hugged by a youngster is appropriate touching so long as the adult does not initiate or request it from the child.

    Don’t touch: Being hugged by a fifth-grader or older is not appropriate touching when a handshake and a verbal greeting will do just as well. Middle- or high-school student “huggers” can be politely declined. Turning to the side when the child attempts to hug and indicating that you would rather shake hands leaves most students unoffended and still appropriately greeted at the bus stairwell.

    Touch: Adults who do not routinely handle a wheelchair usually do not understand the touching that is required to secure the chair and the student in it. Driver teams may not be able to effectively secure a student in a wheelchair using occupant restraint without also touching the student.

    Don’t touch: Any touching by the driver team that is not related to the use of occupant-restraint belts or the securement of the wheelchair using the four-way tiedown system is inappropriate.

    Touch: Incidental touching is not inappropriate touching. Non-lift school buses have 14-to-16-inch-wide aisles, which makes it very difficult for the bus monitor to walk up and down the aisle while the bus is moving without brushing up against someone along the way.

    Don’t touch: Driver teams sometimes count students on board by lightly touching them on the head with a paper or their hand. This is both demeaning and unnecessary touching that is very inappropriate.

    If you don’t have to touch a student on the special-needs bus, then don’t. If you must in order to keep him or her safe, secured and appropriately seated, then touch as needed. Avoid incidental touching as much as possible. Make touching purposeful, task-specific and effective to help students when help is needed.

    Dr. Ray Turner is a special-needs transportation expert and author of numerous books and newsletters. For more information, e-mail him at [email protected] or visit his Website,

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