SAN DIEGO — California school transportation providers were reminded that they are a critical part of a student’s safe access to education as they gathered here from March 19 to 21.
The California Association of School Transportation Officials’ (CASTO’s) annual conference featured 18 sessions designed to educate attendees on topics ranging from driving students with special needs; new inspection rules; and security, particularly active shooter training.
The trade show included over 50 vendors, such as school bus manufacturers Thomas Built Buses, Collins Bus, and IC Bus. Other suppliers included Creative Bus Sales, AngelTrax, Hydrotex, and Ricon.
Recognizing the power to make a difference in peoples’ lives was a key theme imparted by keynote speakers and sessions that targeted what all school transportation professionals can do to enhance safety and security in and around the yellow bus.
CASTO President Jennifer Hanshew kicked off the conference on Saturday by honoring State Past President and CASTO life member Dano Rybar for raising funds through a weekly bingo game not only for the association's school bus roadeo but also for four scholarships to conference attendees.
Motivational speaker Kevin Bracy encouraged the audience in his keynote speech to make a difference in peoples’ lives and cultivate greatness in youth.
He led the audience through inspirational chants, including “You matter,” and “Each one reach one,” and asked everyone to think about what they would do to continue to cultivate the seed of greatness within students every day.
He shared a story of the bus driver he had growing up in Chicago, and said that he would never forget her. “I was a troublemaker. She sat me in the front row, gave me attention. She didn’t kick me to the curb.”
Every interaction makes a difference, and it takes several interactions for children to “get it,” Bracy added. He used the analogy of a Chinese bamboo tree seed that needs to be watered every day for five years before showing any growth, and if it isn’t, the tree will die. “What if we brought that attention to kids, with the mindset that we can’t miss a day?”
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires school districts and bus companies to transport more special-needs students than ever before, said Donna Anderson, a transportation consultant at the California Department of Education, said. Because of this, she reviewed the legal issues involved in using restraints in special-needs transportation, and stressed that school transportation providers need to be aware of behavior plans that are used in the classroom.
“You need access to [the behavior intervention plan]," she said. "It takes stress off the driver. You can’t be alone in this process.”
Instead of using child restraint safety systems, such as car seats and safety harnesses, for behavior modification, positive behavior supports should be used, she said. Additionally, restraints cannot be modified and any behavioral intervention must be consistent with the child’s rights to be treated with dignity and be free from abuse.
To help pupil transporters avoid receiving “unsatisfactory” ratings, Dano Rybar, transportation consultant at the California Department of Education, clarified state inspection requirements in which he said he saw a lack of compliance among some pupil transporters.
The biggest error, Rybar noted, was in not getting drug and alcohol testing for driver trainees. “Trainees are not supposed to start a driver training program until negative results are received.”
He also stressed that the most current pull notice is required for all staff members with a CDL, and must be updated every year.
Other required documentation is for 10 hours of professional training annually for each driver. The first offense is a “slap on the hand,” but the second offense is canceling the driver’s certification. “This is becoming more common,” Rybar said. “Drivers have to make up the hours and go to the DMV [to renew the certification.]”
Rybar also reminded the audience that as of April 21, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will require medical certification for drivers from a doctor who is listed on the National Registry to obtain a license with a passenger endorsement.
A motorist was texting and crashed into a tree, killing a boy in the car. A 20-year-old driver is serving 12 years in prison for striking an elderly couple in a crosswalk and killing them while looking at his phone. These are just two of the tragic stories Jim Bettencourt, a California Highway Patrol public information officer in San Diego County, shared about the dangers of distracted driving.
He also offered some sobering national statistics: Every 30 seconds, someone is in a phone-related crash. One in three people surveyed admit to talking on their phone while driving and, even more disturbing, in 2013, 3,154 deaths were caused by distracted driving.
Using a phone while driving is considerably more dangerous than other distractions, such as eating, talking with someone else in the car, or even shaving, or putting on makeup. Drivers talking on phones, even hands-free, look at but fail to see up to 50% of the road environment, Bettencourt explained.
Texting is even more dangerous. The average amount of time it takes to send a text is about 4.6 seconds. At 55 miles per hour, you will basically drive for 100 yards with your eyes closed, he said.
He implored the audience to put their phone away while driving; discourage others from calling and texting while driving; and support distracted driving laws.
In two sessions on active shooter training, staff members from Apex-SCF security training services said they are seeing more violence against schools and that the San Bernardino shooting has raised concerns throughout the U.S. about active shooters.
Nevada State Trooper and Apex-SCF staff member Chris Greb told the audience that they need to be prepared to act on their own in the event of an active shooter because police officers may not arrive right away, and minutes mean lives.
To try to prevent active shooter situations, pupil transporters should observe students’ behavior and learn what is normal for them. Listen to their conversations and look for those who demonstrate more than one behavior of concern: depression, threats, hypersensitivity, aggressive outbursts, verbal abuse, or references to weaponry. Clothing that is bulky or inappropriate for the season is another red flag. Additionally, placement of hands is an indicator of potential violence: when someone is concealing a weapon, they touch it constantly, Greb said.
The pupil transporter’s appearance is important, too. Wearing a uniform or professional dress conveys a greater air of authority.
If a situation should happen, he added, take a deep breath; stand up to show authority; give clear commands in an authoritative voice; and maintain eye contact. Hit, grab, or reach for the weapon. Greb also suggested getting the shooter on the ground and sitting on them until police arrive.
On Sunday, CASTO officials honored its annual poster contest winner and announced its four scholarship recipients.
The winning poster entry from Emily Burger, a seventh-grader from Fairmont Private School, Historic Anaheim Campus, was unveiled to an admiring audience.
Scholarship winners Cherryle Fierro of Chino Unified School District; Larry Runnels of Antioch Unified School District; Wendy Schaper of Apple Valley School District; and Shirlee Olsen of Snowline Joint School District; received a full conference package and had their hotel rooms covered.
Al Sauvadon, author and CASTO life member, had incoming executive state board officers walk a red carpet and handed out Oscar-style trophies to them as a thank you for all their hard work.
Sauvadon also gave a keynote speech in which he discussed his book, "My American Dream," and recounted experiences from his immigration as a boy to the U.S. from a small, Nazi-occupied village in France. He urged the audience to follow their dreams, and do what they enjoy through their work, volunteering, or as a hobby, and to nurture relationships.