FRISCO, Texas — A recurrent theme during day two of the 2019 TSD Conference was how attendees can build trust in their own knowledge, as well as with students, parents, other school administrators and departments.
Educational workshops resumed Saturday at the Embassy Suites Dallas Frisco Hotel & Convention Center, highlighted by the annual “Foundations of Special Needs Transportation” half-day seminar.
Trainers Betty Hughes and Maria Carocci from the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute provided overviews of four main areas that student transporters should know when it comes to providing service to students with disabilities: Federal law, training, operations and behavior management. That knowledge provides the building blocks for transportation policies and procedures.
“Communicating those procedures is key,” said Hughes.
The Foundations class touched on the role transportation plays in Head Start. Earlier on Saturday, Linda Barnett, a program analyst with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C., facilitated a forum that brought together attendees who are either already transporting Head Start students or who said they think might in the future.
Barnett discussed the My Peers and the Early Childhood online communities that provide resources on transportation program requirements, standards and service checklists, as well as child passenger safety, outsourcing transportation and even the interior temperature of vehicles used to transport children. She also provided her contact information, and pledged her assistance in connecting attendees with the people or resources they need to best answer operational questions.
A goal of the forum was to develop ongoing communication with the Office of Head Start between Early Head Start and Head Start transportation operation—similar to regular phone calls held with Migrant and Seasonal Head Start. The Office of Head Start said it also wants to increase transparency, and provide more assistance to Head Start agencies and school districts that choose to provide transportation service.
Much discussion centered on concerns about the licensing and training of drivers, especially amid pending federal entry-level driver training rules that are set to go into effect next February. Related comments spoke to the use of alternative allowable vehicles that require drivers only have a passenger endorsement, but not a school bus endorsement.
Another session facilitated by Cathy Staggs, a special needs transportation consultant, former school district director of transportation director and a trainer with the Alabama State Department of Education, discussed the risks of transporting students with disabilities when driver and attendant training does not account for those students’ particular needs.
The panelists were Dana Acock, director of transportation for Grand Prairie ISD in Texas; Dayle Cantrall, a special education program administrator and transportation liaison for San Juan Unified School District in California; and Caleb Williams, the assistant director of transportation for College Station ISD in Texas. They reviewed establishing and utilizing a culture of training, staff ingenuity and a sincere desire to do what’s best for the student. The goal is adjusting on the fly, to solve or identify the best possible solution available to an issue or challenge and overcome staff indecision.
The key takeaway from most of Saturday’s workshops was that many issues can be avoided through proper communication. That holds no truer than when school districts outsource transportation to private contractors. The relationship needs to be strong and collaborative, for example, when a school district provides necessary information to the bus company related to a student’s particular disability. An attendee expressed concern that a school district cites HIPAA as a reason it refuses to share information with bus drivers about student allergies that may require rescue medication.
“Parents actually want the driver and aide to know that information,” said Derrick Agate, director of transportation for Hopkins School District in Minnesota, which uses a contractor. “It’s a matter of getting the team together all in the same room. I explain to them why it’s important to have all the info.”
Dave Armbrecht, director of regional operations for Chicago-based contractor Cook-Illinois Corporation, said districts and contractors should develop an Individualized Transportation Plan, or ITP, to supplement and clarify how transportation meets the service requirements of the child’s Individualized Education Program, or IEP. He also advocated that districts and their contractors get out in front of potential problems as much as possible.
Fred Doelker, director of training for contractor Dean Transportation in Michigan, said the transportation team should have a discussion about the most common things that can go wrong on or around the school bus. Then, they should work with district administrators to develop an action plan for how bus drivers and attendants should be trained to respond, accordingly.
“Communication builds trust,” said panel facilitator Julie Jilek, an assistant superintendent and chief business office for Northwest Special Education Organization near Chicago.