When it comes to planning best approaches transporting students with disabilities to and from school, pupil transportation departments have something invaluable in their toolbelts: past incidents. That was Dr. Linda Bluth’s candid message to state transportation directors at the 54th National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) Conference.
The first step in developing a strategy should include determining whether previous problems encountered are either isolated, or systemic and ongoing.
Cases for Concern in School Transportation
Bluth, a pupil transportation consultant, has decades of experience: specifically, in the transportation of students with disabilities. In her presentation on best strategies for transporting children with disabilities, Bluth didn’t hold back. She shared several shocking cases. In a 2019 case, a child in Pennsylvania with Down syndrome was severely injured when he fell face-first on the school bus. The child’s individualized education program (IEP) required a bus monitor to assist him with exiting the bus. Prior to the incident, the monitor had never done that. His mother eventually sued the school district, according to The Pennsylvania Record.
In another case, a child in Chicago had an IEP requiring them to be on a school bus for no more than one hour. Due to personnel shortages altering transportation times, the child ended up on the school bus for four hours.
Bluth urged state transportation directors to ensure that local departments are educated on the specific needs of each child. That means including them in IEP meetings, so drivers and monitors know what services to provide, she explained. Behavioral management issues, medical issues, and specialized equipment needs can all impact the child’s transportation service needs.
Directors also should take inventory of issues and concerns regarding safe transportation for children with disabilities under IDEA, Section 504, and ADA requirements.
Recommended Approaches for Safe Pupil Transportation
Here are more strategies Bluth recommends to avoid systemic problems to implement safe transportation for children with disabilities:
- Ensure transportation policies and procedures are current and approved for dissemination.
- Respond timely to parent questions, issues, and concerns.
- Respond timely to transportation personnel (dispatchers, drivers and attendants) questions, issues, and concerns.
- Respond timely, efficiently, and effectively to transportation personnel shortages and vacancies.
- Scrutinize transportation personnel transportation training to ensure the skills required to serve children with disabilities are provided and commensurate with individual children needs.
- Use all allowable alternative school transportation options to serve children with disabilities safely, effectively and efficiently.
- In this day and age, it’s common to have substitute school bus drivers and monitors. Not having properly trained substitutes can be dangerous. Bluth said at least 20% of the cases she has served as an expert witness involved substitutes. It’s crucial to ensure they receive the proper training and are informed about special requirements for students, she explained.
Dispatchers for transportation departments should also receive training, since they are likely to receive calls from employees requesting guidance on transporting children with disabilities.
“My final request is do something different and make one child’s life better,” Bluth said.