Cheryl Wolf is a special-needs transportation specialist with nearly 30 years of experience in the school bus industry. She can be reached at [email protected] or (765) 426-9747.
Transporting students with disabilities safely is a very complex procedure that requires, by federal guidelines, training for anyone providing the related service.
School bus drivers and attendants need to be trained and qualified in operating equipment, federal and state laws pertaining to transporting students with disabilities, loading and unloading procedures, securing procedures for students using a wheelchair, proper use of child safety restraint systems, behavior management and emergency evacuation — just to name a few.
How do we do this in a time of dwindling budgets and with the many time constraints we are under? There is a need to think of innovative ways to provide ongoing training for our drivers and attendants so they can transport our most vulnerable population in the safest possible manner.
There is a plethora of good training material out there that can be used in many ways, or you can build your own training program. Here are some tips for bolstering special-needs training:
- To build your own program, Google "transporting students with disabilities," and you will find many helpful websites that will start you on your quest for training material. For example, the Easter Seals Project Action site provides a list that will guide you to various publications (click here to view the list).
- Many states have their training manuals posted to their websites. These can be used as a starting point to design a training program specific to your operation.
- Another key resource is the National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures manual, which can be downloaded at www.ncstonline.org.
- Start with the basics of the federal and state legislation that governs the transportation of students with disabilities and your district policies and procedures. Giving this basic information helps the drivers and attendants understand why it is necessary to do what we do.
- Identifying the characteristics of different disabilities and how they might impact transportation is also helpful for the drivers and attendants.
- Equipment training, many times, will be provided by the manufacturer, such as the wheelchair lift and wheelchair securement companies.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has training material for the use of child safety restraint systems on the school bus. Go to www.nhtsa.gov/school-buses.
- Use local resources within your special-education department to train drivers and attendants in managing student behavior during the bus ride.
- Involve your local fire department and emergency responders to plan emergency evacuation drills, and help educate them on how a student's disability might impact how the child would be evacuated.
- Some other key training topics that need to be incorporated into your training program are confidentiality, student-specific medical conditions, sensitivity training and district-specific policies.
- All areas of training should be documented when given and put in the drivers' and attendants' files.
- Another important aspect of building a training program is to draw from the knowledge of pupil transportation veterans as well as the new kids on the block. Ask them what they see for the future of special-needs transportation and how to prepare and train our drivers for it. There is a wealth of information in our special-needs transportation community, and many are more than willing to share.
Well-trained drivers and attendants will provide the safest transportation for our students with disabilities on the school bus.