You hold in your hands the latest and greatest edition of SBF February, also known as the Special-Needs Issue. As you’ll see, we’ve gone to great lengths to encompass as much pertinent information as possible here.

But we only have so much editorial space between these front and back covers. If you find yourself wanting more on special-needs transportation matters, you’re in luck.

To borrow a popular ad slogan of the day — for everything else, there’s ... the 14th National Conference and Exhibition on Transporting Students With Disabilities and Preschoolers. You’ve seen those commercials, right?

If you haven’t already marked that event from March 11 to 16 on your calendar, do so now. Then come back here when you’re done.

According to the results of our 2005 Special-Needs Survey (starting on pg. 19), school bus drivers who transport students with disabilities receive an average of about six hours more training per year than those who drive regular routes. So if your drivers are getting that much extra training, shouldn’t you be sharpening your skills as well?

Get with the program
The program at this year’s special-needs conference in Phoenix will include what may be the first national conference session on security readiness specifically for special-needs transportation. If you witnessed the groundbreaking anti-terrorism training event in Cincinnati last November (see pg. 22 of the December 2004 issue for more on that), you shouldn’t need any convincing that security is a key concern for school bus operators these days.

Conference sessions will range from general special-needs topics (such as the importance of IEP history) to some that are quite specific (such as liability questions raised by those labels that appear on wheelchairs advising that they are not for use as a seat in a transportation vehicle — how’s that for a topic?).

If you still want to delve further, there will be three separate-registration, all-day workshops — one covering inclusion, one an executive briefing and another on child safety seating.

And don’t forget to make your rounds at the trade show. Perhaps you’ll find a new product or two that will make your operation safer and your job easier.

Meeting people, places
One of the advantages of this type of conference is the chance to meet other professionals from across the country. These people attend for many of the same reasons that you do, and many will have valuable information to share.

But, as with any industry event, the “learning experiences” don’t all have to take place within the convention center. The downtime can be great for exploring a new place. Maybe you’ll wander through the Phoenix Art Museum one afternoon. Maybe you’ll catch a Suns game one night.

After last year’s event outside of Atlanta, I got to pay a visit to the fine folks at the DeKalb County Schools transportation department. Then, on the way to the airport, I got a quick tour of the city by car as well as an array of safe-driving tips from Bill Bast, assistant director of transportation. Now, every time I come to a sharp curve in the road, I remember to brake before entering the turn and then accelerate, if needed, after the steering wheel starts to turn for maximum traction.

My point here is that even though I’ve been driving for (ahem) many years, there’s still a lot I can learn from an expert. Likewise, even if you’ve been transporting special-needs students for a long time, there’s probably still a lot you can learn from a congregation of experts — even if you’re one of those experts yourself.

In the meantime, visit