LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The third day of the TSD Conference covered an array of topics — some to the benefit of transportation departments busing special needs students, while others worked to the advantage of transportation directors handling employee relations.
All of them, though, were connected a significant thread, the idea of transparent communication.
The day kicked off with an early-morning general session titled "Rescue Medications on the School Bus." Dr. Joseph O’Neill, an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis, led the discussion that examined a recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics on the application of seizure medication outside of a medical setting.
O’Neill, who was also a reviewer of the Rescue Medicine for Epilepsy in the Educational Setting and the primary author for the national statement on the safe transportation of children with disabilities on school buses, broadened the topic to beyond seizures in order to “give guidance on how to best handle school bus emergencies."
First and foremost, O’Neill emphasized the importance that every child with special needs who rides the bus must have an emergency action plan for the wide range of ailments they may suffer from, including how to administer medication that respects their dignity and privacy.
Whether the condition is a food allergy or a seizure, a detailed, individualized plan must be written out explicably and precisely so that everyone involved in the child’s life has a clear understanding of what to do in case of an emergency.
O’Neill also stressed the value of planning for a number of contingencies and to be sure to include the child in on the discussion. “The devil is in the details,” said O’Neill. “Put the child first and the condition second.”
After laying out the groundwork for managing a number of urgent situations that can occur on a school bus, O’Neill opened the session to the panel that included Angela McDonald, a registered nurse with the Kentucky Department of Education, Sue Shutrump, an occupational physical therapist, and Cheryl Wolf, a special needs transportation consultant.
All three pointed out just how essential open communication is to the safety of special needs students during an emergency to “make sure everyone is on the same page,” said McDonald.
This extends support staff on both transportation and academic levels in an effort to “build a collaboration of communication…to give them the tools to do their jobs,” said Wolf.
“Therapy staff can be vital,” said Shutrump. “They can help modify equipment to best accommodate special needs students on the bus.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum, but equally as crucial to effectively running a successful transportation department is "Hiring and Firing Employees…Confidentially and Legally," an afternoon workshop led by certified HR consultant Grace Kelly of the law firm RC Kelly & Associates near Philadelphia.
Like the previous seminar, the discussion highlighted the significance of communication, especially in regards to a clear grasp of employee responsibilities and expectations, as well as goals for the position.
Without them in place can create a “real disconnect” that allows problems to fester and directors to “put up with things that you’d normally not put up with,” said Kelly.
Kelly hit upon a number of laws on the books that protect employees from harassment, discrimination and bullying, and underscored the reality that “as soon as they walk through the door, they are yours.”
As for the termination of employees, Kelly imparted the advice that the removal be based on fact and detailed documentation, as opposed to emotion, believing that directors should “suspend today, decide tomorrow.”