Speakers at the recent TSD Conference stressed understanding of students with disabilities in order to transport them more successfully on the school bus as well as adjust them to life among nondisabled peers.
“If there’s one place a child should feel loved and accepted, it should be the school system,” said behavior consultant and TSD keynote speaker Jo Mascorro, student behavior and autism specialists, in a March 11 afternoon breakout workshop. Earlier in the day she presented a keynote presentation on tools for school bus drivers and attendants to use—and those not to—when responding to challenging behavior demonstrations.
She clarified that the school bus driver is a crucial part of that. since “drivers are the beacons that begin and end a student’s day.”
“They’re a student first, not a disabled student,” emphasized Shawna Jones, special needs supervisor for Klein Independent School District in Texas, as well as a former special education teacher and administrator. She advised in her Tuesday afternoon workshop that school bus drivers treat such students as individuals, allow them independence, offer assistance rather than to force it, and focus on their abilities, instead of their disabilities.
Nonobvious disabilities include allergies, Chron’s disease, bipolar disorder, narcolepsy, Lupus, ADHD, autism, depression, heart disease, blindness, deafness and emotional disturbance. Jones reminded that nurses giving school bus drivers correct medical information on these conditions is not a violation of FERPA, since it is needed to provide service to that child. However, information should be kept confidential, even over the bus radio.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act states that special education students are to be educated in their Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the maximum extent possible. That extends from the classroom to the lunchroom to the bus, Jones explained. “And just because a student has seizures does not necessarily mean they have to be on the special needs bus,” she said.
Both Mascorro and Jone encouraged listeners at their sessions to not necessarily try to change a student, but to accommodate them if possible, for a more pleasant experience for that student, the driver and the other bus riders. Mascarro said to consider obstructions in the bus and seating arrangements for anything that might set a child off.
“Meet their needs,” Jones encouraged. Simply letting students who get agitated by noise to wear headphones, will help them sit calmly on a regular education bus. Letting them rock or tap if they need to helps them reduce their anxiety. A driver or aide who carries on conversations with a student can help distract them from their anxiety. Students with intellectual disabilities may not respond immediately to requests, but Jones said that is because they just need additional time to process what the driver or aide said to them.
Words like “No,” “Don’t,” and “Stop” are not effective on students with special needs or behavioral problems, said Mascarro. She revealed that instructing a student with “no” rules such as “Don’t hit” or “Stop running” only keeps the negative behavior fresh in their minds. She recommended “landing on what you want” by phrasing instructions so words describing the positive behavior desired are what students hear, absorb and act on.
If incident reports need to be filed, Mascorro said they should be factual. “The point of documentation is to establish patterns, so we can develop plans and achieve success,” she added.
School bus drivers should also be observant of why a student may be acting out. Mascorro advised rethinking processes if a student has an agitated or traumatic situation at home, because that can complicate their entire school bus ride. Drivers calling out sick on what Jones called “Flu Fridays” and “Hangover Mondays” pose problems, since disruptions in a special needs student’s routine can trigger outbreaks.
Mainstreaming students with disabilities is important, said Jones, because it helps them attain higher academic achievement, feelings of independence, better self-esteem and social skills. “We want to accept them, we want to accommodate them, and we want to make them successful,” she concluded. Nondisabled counterparts, in turn, become more understanding and acceptant.
“If we could spend more time thinking about creative ideas instead of going on about our troubles, we could quantitatively come up with some pretty good solutions,” Mascorro noted.