|Written by Dr. Linda F. Bluth and Steve Sorin|
|Sunday, 01 June 2003 12:53|
Special needs child draws national media attention
Jacob, a 9-year-old with Down syndrome was the center of attention on "Good Morning America" and CNN on May 7, 2003 . It was reported that his parents wanted to learn more about their son's ongoing reported misbehavior on his school bus. In order to do so they placed a tape recorder in his backpack.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the tape recorder in his backpack recorded "the driver cursing, threatening and hitting Jacob, which led to the bus driver's arrest." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headlines were disturbing:
What can we learn from this bus incident that gained national attention? Drivers of students with disabilities represent a continuum of individuals with varying training, skills and oversight that transport children with disabilities to and from school. The most vulnerable children are those who are unable to verbalize and protect themselves against the despicable actions alleged to be taken against Jacob. In light of the reports, we would be extremely misguided to believe that a single corrective action will rectify the situation that led to the alleged abuse suffered by Jacob. We must look at a range of actions in order to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.
School bus drivers are expected to simultaneously safely handle the vehicle and manage challenging behaviors. Absent adequate training, follow-up and appropriate staffing this is an unrealistic expectation.
A critical first step in the process of transporting children with disabilities is understanding the characteristics of the behavior exhibited by the children transported. It was clear from listening to the tape recording, that the bus driver's words and actions demonstrated ignorance or unawareness about behavioral strategies that could have been utilized to assist and manage Jacob. It is unacceptable to speak to any child in the manner captured on the tape recording.
Bus aides, knowledgeable about the children transported on their respective vehicles, are an invaluable resource. Aides, who have been trained and are knowledgeable about interventions and techniques that work with each individual child, should be assigned to each bus transporting children with special needs. The classroom behavioral program, including positive behavior interventions, should be utilized on the bus. The transition of the behavioral system between classroom, the school building and bus should be consistent and seamless.
In Jacob's case, the individualized education program (IEP) process should have been utilized to address the ongoing concerns of the parents. The IEP process provides the means to address the behavioral concerns that were brought to the attention of Jacob's parents. There can be no excuse for the failure of school and transportation personnel to work together to resolve matters related to Jacob's behaviors long before the reported incident. Things should have never escalated to the point that they did.
Children with special needs are entitled to safe and dignified transportation to and from school. Drivers and aides who have received appropriate training are more capable of responsibly handling challenging behaviors. After all, it is the related service transportation that provides access to and from special education.
It is time to raise the bar with respect to driver training, toot the horn of exemplary school districts who provide excellent driver training, and prevent any child from being told "I'm going to slap the hell out of you." Zero tolerance for failure should be the standard when it comes maintaining the well being of all children with or without a disability.
The parents' recommendation for the use of cameras on all school buses serving children with disabilities has its limitations. The utilization of cameras alone will not replace pertinent driver and aide training, fitting communication skills, and meaningful behavioral interventions under stressful situations. One of my ongoing concerns is the use of "credential experts" in providing training for transporters of children with special needs. It is essential that qualified personnel meet with transportation personnel and assist with the challenges faced daily on school buses whether it is communication, behavior, or use of equipment. This training should occur both on and off the bus. It is timely for the school bus to be a considered an extension of the school day experiences and expectations.
Linda F. Bluth, Ed.D. is Branch Chief and Steven Sorin, Section Chief at the Maryland State Department of Education, Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services, Community and Interagency Services Branch.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 October 2009 13:07|