Remembering Early Advocates for Special Needs Transportation at the TSD Conference
Friday evening general session during the TSD Conference on March 9 engages five of the original Tenured Faculty members of the conference in a "Wisdom Panel" discussion with attendees. The session, "Then, Now and Tomorrow," focuses on the major tenets of transporting students with disabilities under the IDEA, and takes inventory of the past quarter century of the conference. In the March issue of School Transportation News magazine, I wrote an up close and personal introduction to our "Wisdom" panelists (Linda Bluth, Peggy Burns, Pauline Gervais, Alex Robinson and Sue Shutrump), citing their distinct and important contributions to the conference.
But, there's more to the history and the story. Meet two additional individuals who, while they have passed away, are to be remembered and appreciated for important lasting and distinct efforts each made in the early 1990s on behalf of students with disabilities and the pupil transportation community.
For Lyle L. Stevens (owner of contractor Special Transportation, later to become Dean Transportation), the initiative was following up on the pupil transportation community's interest in the safety of students who were seated in their wheelchairs while riding the bus. That topic was brought up to a representative of wheelchair manufacturer Invacare, who spoke at the first TSD Conference that I held in 1992. He was reluctant to address the matter, even saying that when he got calls from pupil transportation directors he didn't want to answer the phone. Lyle and his business partner, Kellie Dean, weren't satisfied with no action on the matter safe seating. They filed a lawsuit, which subsequently led to forcing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop equipment specifications for transit wheelchairs and wheelchair tie-down equipment, today known as WC 19 and WC 18, respectively. Meeting WC19 is voluntary and, still today, wheelchair manufacturers are not overtly marketing transit technology. Safety in transit is measurably improved with tie-downs that are customarily used today.
Similarly, Peter J. Grandolfo, transportation director for Chicago Public Schools, was not timid about speaking up or taking on the authorities when it came to the service for and safety of children who ride the yellow bus. Peter's challenge during an early TSD Conference general session was to the Department of Education. The issue was transportation's need for a place at the table during IEP meetings. Joleta Reynolds, special assistant to the director of the DOE's Office of Special Education Programs, was taking questions after her address when Peter stood up and boldly made a case for transportation as a related service and the importance of living up letter of the law. Peter and Joleta agreed to talk after the session. The history of the TSD Conference reflects that "An important outcome of the 1994 conference was the invitation of the U.S. Department of Education to key members of the school transportation community to discuss their issues as part of the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Never before had transporters been invited to give input to that law." Peter and JoLeta became friends. In some districts, transportation representatives still need to fight to attend IEP meetings. They would be well advised to channel Peter.
As you consider the dedication of colleagues such as Lyle, Peter and the Tenured Faculty members, I hope it will motivate you to join in on local and national stages to help make special needs transportation better and stronger to meet the challenges - whatever they may be - in the years to come.
Editor's Note: School Transportation News and wheelchair securement manufacturer and trainer Q'Straint/Sure-Lok recognize a special needs transporter who goes above and beyond in their service by awarding the Peter J. Grandolfo Memorial Award of Excellence each summer at the STN EXPO. Nominate a deserving candidate for the 2018 award.
Roseann Schwaderer founded the Transporting Students with Disabilities & Preschoolers National Conference (TSD) in 1992. STN Media acquired TSD in 2012 and began producing the event the following year. Schwaderer as remained conference chair.