LOUISVILLE, Ky. — TSD Conference attendees heard from transportation compliance expert Dr. Linda F. Bluth for a final time, as she discussed the topic of Individual Education Programs, or IEPs, being the “heartbeat” of IDEA.
The Tuesday general session marked the evolution of a topic she spoke about 25 years ago during the first TSD Conference held in Dallas. Bluth, a past-president of the National Association for Pupil Transportation and the retired director of quality assurance and monitoring at the Maryland State Department of Education, offered parting wisdom stemming from several important court cases over the past decades as she wrapped up her national speaking career, including the hallmark Susavage v. Bucks County Schools Intermediate Unit No. 22 and Herrera v. Hillsborough County School Board, both of which resulted from tragic and unnecessary student deaths on the bus that were due to gross negligence on the part of the district and/or bus contractor.
While she said school districts have accomplished a great deal in terms of improving specialized transportation service for students with disabilities since the establishment of IDEA more than 40 years ago — and especially since she began speaking nationally on specialized transportation compliance — she said more needs to be done, as is evidenced by the type of complaints that parents continue to make against school districts nationwide. She cautioned that sexual abuse and bullying incidents are the most frequent investigations that she currently reviews as both a consultant to Maryland or as an expert witness in legal cases.
Many incidents can be avoided by simply attending IEP meetings, Bluth said. But it is unrealistic to expect student transporters to attend all of them, so she recommended adhering to the following formula: Attendance should be mandatory each time the IEP team discusses placing a student on the bus in a different manner than any other other child.
“The IEP is designed for one student and must be individualized,” she said during her Tuesday morning keynote general session at the Galt House Hotel. “I hope each of you take away that one thing.”
She also discussed the “phenomenal” student accessibility and safety improvements made to school bus vehicle design, including video cameras, GPS and routing software. But she cautioned that she sees bus driver and bus attendant training nationwide falling behind in attempts to keep up with that new technology. The result is often a parent complaint that leads to a formal investigation and, worse, a legal case.
Bluth said she will continue to offer her expertise to state conferences as well as write articles for School Transportation News.