It takes well-trained school bus drivers and attendants to transport students with disabilities safely. Unfortunately, not every trained driver is qualified to transport our most vulnerable population.

Because of the shortage of school bus drivers across the nation, the newly trained driver may go directly to a route that has students with special needs on it without any specialized training to take care of those needs — in many instances not even knowing what those needs might be.

Drivers and attendants responsible for transporting children with disabilities have many challenges in transporting this population. The number of students with special needs requiring specialized transportation continues to grow, requiring more drivers and attendants with proper training to better serve these students.

The state of Indiana has added a special-needs component to the annual safety meeting. That meeting is required for certification or re-certification of Indiana school bus drivers. The special-needs component is not mandatory; however, any school bus driver who takes it and passes the quiz will have a special-needs endorsement on his or her certification card.

The program is varied every year to keep it fresh and timely. A hands-on component is added to test drivers’ and attendants’ proficiency in specialized skills.

The training includes an overview of special-needs transportation, which includes federal and state laws, confidentiality and the areas of disabilities.

When driving and transporting preschool-age children, drivers and attendants must be well versed in child safety restraint systems on the school bus. This includes loading, securing wheelchairs and unloading students safely.

All drivers and attendants are trained in how to properly deal with challenging behaviors, such as bullying and harassment of students while on the bus. They are also drilled in the proper evacuation of the bus in case of emergency. Drills are performed with students on the bus so both personnel and students know what to expect of one another in case of an emergency.

There are other specialized areas of training necessary to accommodate students’ individualized transportation plans, such as use of a service animal, training for medical issues (including ventilator and oxygen equipment) and how to respond in the event of a seizure.

Due to a shortage of properly trained drivers, more and more districts are including cross training among drivers of both general-education students and special-needs students. This will enable them to step into a different bus situation and transport all students in their care safely. It will also save districts time and money by preparing drivers for that inevitable student with a disability.

Transportation is recognized as one viable option for integration of children with and without disabilities in a nonacademic setting. However, the locations of special-education and related-service programs and the severity of a student’s disability are crucial factors in determining the type of transportation provided.