KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Pupil transportation directors got a parent’s perspective on service animals in school transportation here on Monday.
At the NAPT and NASDPTS conferences, Kimberly Bish of Vandalia, Ohio, shared insights from her family’s experience. Bish’s daughter, Danielle Kneisly, has a seizure assistance dog named Bobo.
With Bobo resting at her feet and her daughter and husband also in the room, Bish told attendees about how the dog is trained to detect when Danielle is having a seizure — and even when she’s about to have one.
When Bobo began accompanying Danielle to school, Bish got involved with training staff at the local school district, including the transportation department.
“My bus drivers needed to know what to expect,” Bish said. For example, she educated them on how Bobo alerts others to Danielle’s seizures, and she worked with them in securing Bobo on the school bus (his leash was clipped to a seat post next to Danielle in her wheelchair). Bish also got involved with emergency evacuation drills, and she told the drivers not to worry about Bobo in an evacuation.
“Make sure all of the students get off of that bus first,” Bish recalled telling the drivers. “Just let Bobo go – he’ll find [Danielle].”
After conducting training with the school district, Bish met Ohio state director Robert Harmon, who joined her for the conference presentation. Harmon said that pupil transporters typically have many questions and concerns when it comes to service animals on the bus. For example: What about other passengers who might be allergic to or scared of the service animal?
Bobo, for one, is hypoallergenic. Also, Bish said that a boy on Danielle’s bus who was scared of dogs became “best friends” with Bobo after the dog came to comfort him when he was crying.
Bish worked with Harmon to expand the service animal training to pupil transportation personnel throughout Ohio. Harmon said that the session became the top-rated driver training course in the state.
Harmon said that Bish also helped Ohio pupil transportation officials understand how to be sensitive in asking parents about a service animal.
Instead of inquiring about what disability their child has, Bish advised asking, “What service does your dog provide for your daughter?”
The NASDPTS conference, which runs through Wednesday, is covering numerous other topics, including stop-arm violations, a school bus evacuation study, and what local directors expect from state directors.
NASDPTS attendees are also hearing from officials of several federal agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the Environmental Protection Agency.