Pictured are the top competitors in the 14th National Special-Needs Team Safety Roadeo, in which school bus driver and attendant teams are judged in a variety of skills.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Pupil transportation professionals convened here over the past several days to enhance their skills in serving students with special needs.
The National Conference & Exhibition on Transporting Students With Disabilities and Preschoolers — the 20th edition of the annual event — offered attendees a variety of educational workshops and hands-on training opportunities.
On Saturday was the 14th National Special-Needs Team Safety Roadeo, in which school bus driver and attendant teams are judged in driving and backing a bus; loading, unloading and securing students in wheelchairs; and evacuating the bus — all while maintaining behavioral control of special-needs passengers. The teams also have to complete a written test before coming to the roadeo. (See the list of top teams below.)
The general session on Monday morning included a welcome from Missouri state pupil transportation director Roger Dorson and comments from Kansas state director Larry Bluthardt on the recent school bus loading and unloading fatality report.
Peggy Burns of Education Compliance Group, who is one of the conference’s tenured faculty members, gave an update on a legal case that she described as “surprising and important to all of you.” The case, which is still unfolding, involves a 12-year-old Pennsylvania student with a bone disease who was injured during a bus evacuation drill. As alleged in the litigation, the school district knew of the student’s condition, but the driver and the bus contractor that transported the student were not informed of it.
The keynote speaker was Kevin Jennings, assistant deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe & Drug-Free Schools. Jennings, who also spoke at the National Association for Pupil Transportation conference last fall, discussed bullying and its effects on students.
“Students can’t learn if they don’t feel safe,” he said. “Bullying creates a climate of fear, which affects all kids.”
Jennings cited national statistics showing that the school bus is the No. 3 location where students are bullied, with No. 1 being inside the school building and No. 2 being outside of the school. He noted that most bullying is not online.
Jennings said it’s important to make it clear that bullying is unacceptable, and students need to know that they should report it. He recommended starting a bullying prevention program on the bus before there is an incident. He also noted that if a child suddenly starts missing the bus on a regular basis, it could be a sign that he or she is being bullied on the bus.
Among the many conference sessions was an intriguing presentation by Pete Meslin, director of transportation at Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Costa Mesa, Calif., and Cheryl Wolf, another tenured faculty member who recently retired from her district position. They spoke about identifying special-education students who can move away from curbside bus service (stopping directly in front of their home).
Meslin and Wolf said that shifting these students to a neighborhood bus stop — or even picking them up in front of their neighbor’s house — can contribute to their development and teach them life skills, particularly if they go on to use public transit after graduating from school. The move also makes for a less-restrictive environment for the students.
“Curbside is our most restrictive setting for the student with the disability,” Meslin said. “About 70 percent of the average school district’s special-ed population is appropriately served at a bus stop other than curbside. About 10 percent actually are.”
Other workshop topics included bolstering dispatch operations, detecting child abuse and identifying what makes a great bus attendant.
On Tuesday, attendees perused the trade show, where small buses and a variety of products were on display. Conference Chair Roseann Schwaderer said that the number of exhibitors, about 56, was the biggest yet for the event.
Here are the roadeo results:
1st Place — driver Jamie Magness and attendant Andrea Gerth, Genesee Intermediate School District, Flint, Mich.
2nd Place — driver Clayton Terry and attendant Shelley Johnson, Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, Houston
3rd Place — driver George Sheely and attendant Edith Fairchild, Hays Consolidated Independent School District, Kyle, Texas