Attendees at this month’s TSD Conference were eager to learn how to properly balance student privacy laws with the right to know of school bus drivers and attendants, as speakers stressed the role of good management in special needs transportation.
Jo Anne Blades, program manager for the Special Education Resolution Center at Oklahoma State University, presented an afternoon session on March 11 on balancing The Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA) compliance with information that school bus drivers should receive to best manage students and their routes. Alexandra Robinson, executive director for the Office of Pupil Transportation at the New York City Department of Education, led a workshop two days later on sharing with bus monitors the same information that is provided to school bus drivers.
Blades said that FERPA deals with maintaining privacy and confidentiality in student educational records, which is any identifiable student data kept by a school district. School officials who possess a legitimate educational interest in a student may be privy to educational records, she explained. An Office of Special Education Programs letter states that this right extends to transportation, meaning bus drivers, bus aides, transportation directors and bus contractors are allowed access.
Several attendees said their transportation departments were confused over how drivers accessed student disability information, or if they should and would obtain a copy. Blades responded that there is no federal indication of how the information is accessible, or if drivers receive a paper copy, as these decisions are made by each individual school district. She said the bottom line is that the federal law supersedes district policy, so drivers do get access. However, employees must follow management’s policies.
“Leadership is about making people better when you’re there and making sure it stays that way when you’re gone,” Blades encouraged.
She added that it is important for managers to talk to their transportation team about problems, make reports in writing, and provide training on behaviors that are exhibited by special needs students.
Robinson later said that school district staff, such as members of the special education department, may withhold information, because of assumptions on legality, fear of conflict or failure, pre-judgments on co-workers, mistrust of coworkers, or a desire for power or indispensability. In reality, she said, sharing information with drivers and monitors helps make school bus operations smoother.
Transportation providers play an integral role in students’ lives, Blades said, and effective communication includes information about student needs and potential problems.
There are many benefits to school bus monitors or attendants receiving the same information as drivers, Robinson shared. Drivers and attendants can help each other help remember particulars, like student triggers or custody situations. Scenarios during the TSD rodeo, held at Frisco ISD on March 10, demonstrated how driver and attendant cooperation results in the best possible service.
Additionally, Robinson added, attendants should be familiar with the driver’s job. They should know how everything behind the wheel works, routes, stops, evacuation procedures, bus and student equipment, pertinent details on students, and communication methods used by students.
The flipside of that is the confidentiality training that is federally mandated for bus drivers and attendants who collect or use personally identifiable information on students with disabilities. Instead of giving transportation staff details on individual students’ problems, Blades suggested that general training on disabilities and how to deal with them may suffice.
Given recent examples of drivers or attendants allegedly abusing special needs students, Robinson stressed that the current driver shortage should not lead management to cover for bad drivers or attendants. “Would you right now put your child, grandchild, niece or nephew on a bus with that person and feel comfortable? If you hesitate, that person shouldn’t be on a bus,” she said. Team members should self-regulate, so the team gets better, she added.
Robinson cautioned that “my job” versus “your job” views held by some drivers and attendants leads to noncooperation. She encouraged managers to “give resources, lead and retrain, so people collaborate.”
“Some of our best drivers come from the attendant world," she concluded.