A session at the Transporting Students with Disabilities and Special Needs Virtual conference earlier this month examined how districts and vendors can partner to overcome challenges and provide unique transportation service to students with special needs.
Individuality & Unique Cases
“You have to be ready to adapt at any given moment while also providing consistency for the students,” said Megan Carey, chief development officer at ALC Schools. She added that ALC typically help provide rides to and from school for students who experience challenges when riding a normal yellow bus.
Jessica Aquino, an area manager for the company’s Pacific Northwest region, explained that ALC works with parents and schools to determine the best service for each child. While not all variables in transportation can be easily accommodated, she related an incident in which ALC was able to create storyboards for a student who needed them for help adjusting to changes. It was a three-week process, but ALC did get the student successfully adjusted to a new bell time.
“In the end, it’s not just about transportation. It’s a genuine approach to caring for each student,” Aquino said.
“If you’ve worked with one child with autism, you’ve worked with one child with autism,” Carey underscored.
Attendees used the session chat to share challenges they’d encountered when transporting students with special needs and the solutions they’ve devised.
“We had an OCD student years ago that was so severe that if a sub [driver] deviated from the route at all, the parent would have to rear-drive the route with the student in order to calm him back down,” shared Chris Mather, the training coordinator for Bend-La Pine Schools in Oregon.
Tammy Parker, a transportation training and compliance specialist for exceptional students at Dysart Unified School District in Arizona, commented that she’s told students stories and shown them pictures to get them used to their bus drivers and aides. It has helped tremendously, she related.
“We often [say that] no student is the same even within the same diagnosis. Not only this, but no situation or scenario is the same,” added Mather in the chat. “Just because a student reacted ‘this way’ one day doesn’t necessarily mean they will react the same way the next in identical circumstances.”
“It’s all in the connection you have with the student and knowing them well enough to sense how they are going to react each time,” Parker commented. “I train my aides that you need to spend some one-on-one time each ride with each student, and they can do it when they escort each student on the bus to their seat.”
“Every student and every ride is different,” agreed Heather Handschin, supervisor of bus operations at Prince William County Public Schools in Virginia, in the chat. “Flexibility and the ability to adapt is key!”
“I really appreciate the individualized accommodations ALC provides. Working together is key,” added Emily LePore, Prince William County’s special needs coordinator.
Communication & Trust
Chad Williams, ALC’s western director of field operations, shared key points that allow for successful partnerships and quick reaction times:
- Maintaining high levels of communication and training.
- Being ready to respond to unique situations.
- Effectively using technology to solve problems quickly.
Both the school district and the alternative transportation partner must be committed and caring, he summarized.
Mather commented, “[C]ommunication with the parent is key to gaining the trust of the parent, especially those that may be apprehensive about releasing their child to someone they’ve just met.”
Greg Shaner, a special education transportation specialist at Greeley Evans School District 6 in Colorado, commented in the chat that he calls the parents after a student’s route is set up to give busing info as well as to receive vital information about their child for his drivers and monitors.
“I have my drivers and aides ask the question, ‘What do I need to know about your student?’” Parker said.
“Focus on the one,” Carey recommended.
She shared that ALC is responding to current events by conducting strategy planning with districts because of COVID-19.
Partnerships & Technology
“It’s really about the partnership,” said Carey. She noted in a Nov. 9 Product Showcase that ALC aims to work with districts so each student can access the education & opportunities they need.
Transportation Director Carlos Chicas from Capistrano Unified School District in Southern California declared that ALC has been an “excellent partner,” including meeting unique needs during COVID-19.
Carey said it was important for alternative transportation providers to have a working knowledge of their district partner’s technology use.
Leon Fornelli, who is an ALC Schools area manager and handles field operations in several states, noted that there are frequent obstacles that student transporters have to consider, among these being weather, traffic jams and even protesting crowds. In the Seattle area, for instance, sometimes a trip to school involves a ferry ride across the Puget Sound. Technology such as GPS and communication tools come in handy.
“The goal here is to provide equitable transportation,” he said.
He related an incident in which an ALC vehicle that was transporting a student who didn’t have their medication became stuck in traffic on a highway. Staff remained calm and relied on their own expertise and training. They used GPS to locate the vehicle, contacted the parent and highway patrol, and resolved the situation.
Related: The Role of the Special Education Educator in Transportation Services
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Related: (STN Podcast E38) TSD Virtual Live Podcast #3: It Takes A Village For Empathetic Transportation
Related: Webinar: Transportation Should Support Students with Special Needs at School Restart
Related: Temple Grandin Shares Expert Perspective on Autism Spectrum During TSD Virtual
Moore said that ALC developed all their technology in-house, with the aim of putting students and their needs first. It’s more than the technology behind the trip – the ALC heart and team are very important, she explained.
ALC Schools then performed a walk-through of some of the technology they use to partner with districts.
The request portal is web-based and allows for districts to request customized trips, explained Matthew Farr, the director of product development for ALC Schools. A driver app allows drivers to follow their pickup and dropoff schedule, as well as allows for GPS tracking. Parents are also able to cancel trips if their students will be absent.