LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Collaboration, training and dignity are themes that dominated the discussions during this year's 25th Annual TSD Conference's training sessions on transporting students with disabilities and preschoolers.
The Monday morning general session was led by Melinda Jacobs, Esq., who imparted her litigation expertise and insight to an eager audience, detailing the key documentation student transporters need to have on hand to guarantee court decisions go in their favor.
Jacobs is a nationally respected attorney and consultant on special education law, with a focus on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the use of service animals by students.
She spoke of the importance of comprehensive training and clear communications during "Current Issues and Trends Impacting Transportation Operations and Services," stating that drivers need to “respect all kids, keep them safe.”
This point highlighted the need for drivers “leave personal beliefs in your car, at home,” according to Jacobs, who believes that safety hinges on drivers remaining impartial to the wide range of circumstances and values of the children they transport.
Jacobs continued her advice on the issue as she broadened the dialogue with Linda F. Bluth, Ed.D. for the afternoon session, "Perspectives on Special Education Law and Policy."
Jacobs remained adamant that special needs children should not be hindered from mixing with general education students aboard the school bus. “You do things not because you’re required to, but because it’s the best thing to do for the children,” said Jacobs.
While Bluth, an emeritus member of the TSD Conference Tenured Faculty and a regular contributor to School Transportation News, offered a different perspective on the topic, she agreed with standpoint that special needs children benefitted from riding along side general education students, as “the school bus is a huge part of the educational experience.”
But she stressed that these interactions needed closely watched, beyond the obvious health concerns, to protect special needs students from harassment and bullying. “The kids that are the most vulnerable need the most supervision,” said Bluth.
Soon after Jacobs and Bluth wrapped up, Pete Meslin, transportation director for Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Southern California, discussed the fact that “free services are not always free” for the session, ‘When FAPE Isn’t Free.’
Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) can create costly challenges for transportation departments, as it requires districts to provide the same amenities for special needs students and general education students.
Meslin shared creative solutions to help diminish costs that are both safe and legal, starting off with “writing polices that reduce liability.”
Parents and transportation departments, along with school administration, need to have open communication, especially when reporting vital details that keep children alive and well.
Meslin revealed that the contracts parents have to sign must disclose all health information in order for students to safely ride Newport-Mesa Unified buses. “Don’t cut corners to save money,” said Meslin.
On Tuesday, "Avoiding and Solving Communications Breakdowns with Parents and Special Ed" continued a thread that was carried throughout the entire TSD Conference: Empathy.
“Kids need the right thing done,” said Diana Clinkscales, a transportation and facilities manager for Neighbor Impact Head Start in Oregon. “You need to look at the whole child, take the time to study the whole picture.”
Robert Meacham, who served in the U.S. Army for 14 years and is the current executive staff advisor for the Office of Next Generation Learners at the Kentucky Department of Eduaction, spoke of the passion that is necessary in working with children.
“It’s about mentoring children and taking them to a place they can’t envision themselves,” said Meacham.