It amazes me that with so many challenges facing the industry in 2022, a look back 30 years reveals a similar landscape. Sure, the specifics have changed. But at the first National Conference and Exhibition on Transporting Students with Disabilities held in early March 1992, topics included emergency evacuations, special equipment needs, and wheelchair transportation. All these and then some are on the agenda next month as TSD Conference returns to the Dallas area (a suburb of Frisco).
School Transportation News was only in its seventh month of publication when Roseann Schwaderer, then publisher of the Federal News Services’ “Transporting Students with Disabilities” newsletter, produced the first conference out of the need to bring topics to the table for discussion and training, all for the betterment of the most at-risk student population. Collaboration was a key theme, and it continues, even with STN acquiring the TSD Conference from Schwaderer in 2012.
The common theme then was the student transporter perspective was seldom if ever included in Individual Education Program meetings. Other school administrators and parents were making transportation decisions for students when absent from the table were those who provided the service. Sound familiar?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act allows school districts to provide related services in the Least Restrict Environment that is “appropriate” for the student. Appropriate is a loaded word with different meanings for different people. For example, parents might think it’s appropriate their child receives door-to-door service for 17 years. But that might contradict the school therapist’s goals for that student or the spirit of other IEP goals.
It’s transportation’s job to provide access to school but to also do so efficiently, not to mention safely, and in support of the child’s IEP. Perhaps over a certain number of school years (or perhaps even throughout a given school year), the student can transition from being picked up at their front door to their driveway to the sidewalk to two houses down to the end of the block, if that is what is truly best for the child’s development.
I still hear many district representatives say that door-to-door service is standard for all students with IEPs because it’s the right thing to do. Is it really?This industry continues to grapple with this and other similar issues discussed in 1992. One keynote at that first TSD was presented by William Tyrell of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. He discussed the impact AIDs was having on the cognitive development of children, predicting that infections would be the leading cause of brain damage in children by the late 1990s. Early detection and intervention improved those outcomes, yet we find ourselves with similar questions today about COVID-19. The jury is out on the long-term impact of the disease and of vaccinations. It certainly has changed the way student transporters clean the school bus.
The other keynote speaker that first year returns next month: Linda Bluth. A member of the TSD Tenured Faculty and STN contributor, Bluth has become widely recognized by student transporters over the past three decades for her expertise. In 1992, she astutely noted that alternative fuels would play an increasing role in the industry and that student transporters needed backup plans in case buses break down or drivers get sick (or, today, new bus orders don’t show up or drivers quit or never apply for the job in the first place).
She also noted that transportation would inevitably serve more infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Witness the evolving Head Start regulations for transportation and the national trend toward universal preschool.
Additionally, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act had barely been signed five years earlier. Over the ensuing decades, transportation service for students experiencing homelessness has become a larger share of school district ridership numbers, so much so that it helped to launch an entirely new service model in the form of non-yellow-bus transportation companies. At the same time, as Bluth predicted, student transporters needed to learn as much as possible about providing service to the most medically fragile students and collaborate with professionals to do so.
There remain far too many questions today. But what has changed is these conversations and others are very much out in the open. As one expert shared with me recently, school districts are much more familiar with these and other challenges, and they are better equipped to tackle them. TSD Conference has made available many more resources to student transporters then what were available when that first historic event was held. I look forward to meeting with attendees next month to celebrate the progress made over the past 30 years and to buckle down on the work ahead
Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the October 2022 issue of School Transportation News.
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