Risk Management
  • The Importance of School Travel Training in Secondary Transition Planning By:

    The United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, emphasized in an up-to-date blog the importance of secondary planning for students with disabilities. The goal being the preparation of students with disabilities for successful secondary transition to postsecondary education, and community living in a range of independent and supportive settings. When I read this blog, I immediately thought about how helpful school transportation personnel could be in meeting this goal for children with disabilities riding school transportation vehicles. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) recognizes the importance of transition planning for students who receive special education and related services. The IDEA mandates that secondary transition planning begin by age sixteen. It is widely reported that many states require transition planning begin prior to age sixteen. In an important message, Director Valerie C. Williams of the Office of Special Education Programs, pointed out the importance of “reading students with disabilities for lifelong success…”. Travel training can begin on a school transportation vehicle by fostering independence, teaching how to follow rules and promoting the goal of lifelong self-reliance, regardless of the functional level of a child with a disability. Transportation personnel can play an influential role in implementing travel training as defined in the IDEA. “Travel training means providing instruction, as appropriate, to children with significant cognitive disabilities, and any other children with disabilities who require this instruction, to enable them to – (i) develop an awareness of the environment in which they live; and (ii) learn the skills necessary to move effectively and safely from place to place within that environment (e.g., in school, in the home, at work, and in the community).” This definition includes all aspects of safely navigating one’s environment. Practically speaking, travel training could support a child with limited cognition or autism who lives in a cul de sac by teaching them to walk to the corner, with supervision or unassisted, when a school transportation vehicle cannot enter the cul de sac. In such instances, travel training can advance independence and simultaneously provide an opportunity for a child with disabilities to ride in the least restrictive environment (LRE) with their neighborhood peers. Another example of the benefit of travel training is providing instruction for children with limited cognition, emotional, or behavioral challenges learning how to wait safely at a designated stop and take safety precautions, such as not stepping off a curb and walking into the street.  Travel training instruction should only be provided by qualified personnel such as trained special educators, related services personnel, and transportation staff. Travel training recommendations should be discussed at a child’s individualized education program (IEP) committee meeting, including the parent and child, when appropriate. Travel Training should always be documented in the IEP and decisions should only be made on a case-by-case basis after a careful assessment of an individual child’s functional level.  In summary, travel training programs provided during school years for children with disabilities can enhance self-reliance in navigating various environments. Travel options can improve positive outcomes in adulthood. Traveling independently provides access to a range of opportunities including postsecondary education, employment, and recreation. Traveling by car, Uber, bicycle, public transportation, or paratransit can afford suitable options for individuals with disabilities. Linda F. Bluth, Ed.D. (bluthlinda@yahoo.com) is one of the nation’s foremost experts on special needs transportation and  continues to be active as a consultant and author. She is a past-president of the National Association for Pupil Transportation and  a Hall of Fame member of the organization.

  • Master the Road Ahead with the Right Fleet Management Solutions By:

    Not all school districts are alike when it comes to their fleet routing and planning processes. Districts have either large or smaller fleets, and many still use manual, cumbersome systems to tackle some of the most challenging aspects of their jobs.  GIS technology can bring value to every aspect of our transportation operations including routing, student location, student accountability, parent notification, field trip planning and more. School districts don’t have to bite off more than they can chew. GIS technology can be implemented in every school district at a pace that meets each district’s needs. Revolutionizing School Transportation with Modern GIS Solutions Budgets are tight everywhere, driver shortages are a nation-wide concern, and vehicle maintenance and downtime can be seriously problematic for any district. Cutting wasted effort and inefficient processes is an absolute necessity and modern GIS systems can help you do just that.  How would knowing which of your routes are optimized, and which aren’t, help your operations?  How would having access to real-time data help you improve parent/school communications?  And how would being able to re-route with ease, while factoring in road usage/rules, help you better protect your students on their way to school? Let’s look at what this might look like for a school district with the options that are currently available. Streamline Operations with All-in-One Solutions All-in-One Solutions enable the user to query several databases depending on the desired outcome. These systems feature an interactive geographic mapping system that graphically displays database queries, tracks vehicles and students in real-time and provides a live view on-board a bus during critical events. GIS technology can shave days, even weeks from planning efforts, reducing it to a matter of hours.   Using an all-in-one solution, transportation departments can produce ‘what if’ scenarios, plan next year’s routing without disturbing the current year’s plans, and respond to urgent situations better and faster.  Safe Fleet® Compass™ is an all-in-one esri-based, routing and planning system that delivers routing, vehicle tracking, video surveillance and vehicle status in a single interface. A transportation department can view planned vs. actual routes in real-time, integrate with existing student information databases, optimize route and student assignments, and provide full audit trails.  Scaling Up: Meeting the Needs of Larger Districts Comprehensive routing and planning systems for large districts are complex, take time to implement, require more involved training to use, and require more budget. Some transportation departments want and need these sophisticated systems, but for budgeting purposes, they need to phase their implementations into manageable pieces. Compass can be implemented in two phases: Automated Routing and GPS Tracking Compass routing can connect to tracking systems already installed on fleet vehicles. This integration provides time, location, direction, and vehicle speed data in 20-30-second intervals. Depending on the equipment and sensors installed on the fleet, the information displayed could also include stop arm extension, signal light, door opening and video recording status. When this information is overlaid with mapped route plans, a fleet management team can instantly see deviations and address them accordingly. Districts that use GIS-based routing systems can realize ROI almost as soon as they start using this type of routing system. Student Tracking and Viewing This functionality adds an additional safety layer to the systems you are already using to protect students while they are in your care. If a bus breaks down, or the unthinkable happens, you’ll have virtual eyes on the situation immediately. With Safe Fleet Student Ridership Tracking, you’ll know where the incident occurred, you’ll know what happened, and you’ll know who has been impacted. Knowing if a student is on a bus, where they got on or off the bus, if they missed the bus and never got on it, as well as information on everyone else on the bus in the event of an emergency, is invaluable and cannot be measured in dollars. Empowering Smaller Districts Not all transportation departments want or need an all-in-one solution. While others may want an all-in-one, but don’t have the budget or resources to implement all at once. School districts have choices. They can implement an all-in-one system in manageable pieces, or select a simpler, easy-to-use planning tool. Safe Fleet Path captures route maps from vehicle GPS and student tracking data. Within days of implementing the system, a transportation department can begin to realize route efficiencies, access accurate driver directions, and reduce parent concerns by providing accurate school bus arrival and departure times.  School districts can even pair Safe Fleet Path with a student accountability mobile app that automatically notifies parents when their children get on and off the bus. The benefits of GIS data can be experienced in our daily lives in many ways, and that includes school transportation departments. Knowing exactly what to do and who to contact in real-time can make a huge impact on final outcomes. This can truly mean the difference between life and death. Kerry Somerville is senior product manager for Safe Fleet. Contact us to learn more. We’ll steer you in the right direction. Visit www.SafeFleet.net for more information

Special Needs
  • Special Needs Solutions By:

    We’ve long said that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution when it comes to transporting kiddos with special needs. Each child has differing needs that need to be met, and that shouldn’t stop anyone from working to help these students have equal access to the same quality of education as their peers. What the student needs is always the most important thing to consider when determining the right type of transportation for them. If they need a safety vest, they should have a safety vest. If they need a driver who has been trained on de-escalation techniques for behavioral concerns, the district should be requiring and/or providing that type of training. While the specific needs of these kiddos may differ, there are some things that can and should be standardized to help ensure the safety of each child’s trip. Consistency: Children with special needs thrive off consistency and since their driver to school every morning is their very first interaction with their education for that day, having the same driver is critical to them arriving at school ready to learn. Changes in routine, even just a person being out of sequence, can cause an entire day to be challenging. Training: Drivers should be trained or educated on how to work with the kiddos they transport. For some drivers that may mean some extra time learning about different types of disabilities and how to work with them. If a student has a service animal, for example, a driver should be trained on how to approach the animal if necessary. If the child has a sensory processing disorder, it may be best that the music be left off while on the way to school.  Drug and alcohol testing: A zero tolerance policy is reactive rather than proactive. When working with children, that’s not enough. A proactive drug and alcohol screening process should be in place that requires pre-employment, post-accident, and reasonable suspicion drug testing, as well as random screenings. Taking a proactive approach to drug and alcohol testing helps to keep the kids safe even before they get into the vehicle. Decision making: Collaboration is key when making decisions regarding transportation for students with special needs. District transportation officials are the experts when it comes to different types of transportation, but the special education officials are the district experts when it comes to the needs of the students. These groups should work together, alongside the parents, to best meet the transportation needs of all special needs students. Those decisions can be written into the IEPs as necessary to help ensure equitable opportunities in the best interests of each kiddo. Communication: There are a few different points of communication that are critical to keeping each day smooth and event free for special needs students. Obviously, transportation and special education officials should be in constant contact. Teachers, along with their monitors and aides, need consistent information so they’re aware of when and where to receive arriving kiddos. They should also be aware of and be able to provide feedback regarding challenges during the trip or drop-off.  Additionally, parents and guardians need and want visibility into their child’s trips. Technology is now providing opportunities for transparency. Everything from student tracking to arrival notifications is possible and should be shared with those necessary to ensure a successful learning experience.  In the 16 years I’ve been a part of the alternative student transportation industry, I’ve seen hundreds of districts handling thousands of different students. No two students are exactly the same and it truly takes a village, a community, to help each one receive the education they deserve in an environment that is safe and reliable. Megan Carey has been building a career in the student transportation industry for 16 years. She has been instrumental in changing the landscape of the student transportation industry, especially as it pertains to leveraging alternative student transportation as a supplement to the traditional yellow bus. As chief development officer for EverDriven, Megan is a strong advocate for the safe transportation of all students, especially those with special needs, foster youth, and those covered by the McKinney-Vento Act. With family roots that run deep in education, Megan’s commitment to keeping education dollars in the classroom is inherent. Megan has a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Minnesota, three daughters, and an avid passion for safe student transportation. Visit www.EverDriven.com for more information.

  • Quickstart Guide to Electric School Bus Electrification By:

    School transportation plays a pivotal role in providing reliable mobility to communities and reducing traffic congestion and pollution. The advancement of Electric Vehicle (EV) technology has now made it possible for even school buses to run their routes without gasoline, aligning with the goal of sustainable public transportation. Transitioning to electric school buses offers a multitude of benefits. However, how can school districts and transportation authorities embark on this electrifying journey? In this guide, we’ll explore the steps to electrify your school bus fleet, with a focus on evaluating existing school bus routes to choose the ones suitable for electric school bus range. 1. Plan for the Electric School Bus Future Anticipating that electric school buses will constitute a significant portion of your future fleet, it’s essential to prepare your facilities for EV charging infrastructure now. Tasks like trenching, conduit installation, switchgear placement, and transformers should be considered. By addressing these elements early, you can minimize future disruptions and costs when expanding your electric bus fleet. Even if you’re starting with just a few electric school buses, plan for where your fleet will be in a decade or more. 2. Engage Your Local Utility Transitioning to electric school buses means your local utility will play a pivotal role in providing power for your fleet. Collaborate with your utility early in the process to assess power requirements and potential upgrades needed for your site. Many utilities offer special Time of Use rates for off-peak charging, which can provide cost savings. Building a strong relationship with your utility can expedite your project and lead to long-term benefits. 3. Keep Stakeholders Engaged Electrifying a school bus fleet involves various stakeholders, including bus manufacturers, EV charging hardware providers, software developers, site designers, and installers. Maintaining alignment and accountability among all parties is crucial. Ensure that everyone is involved throughout the project to prevent compatibility or implementation issues down the line. Collaboration and open communication are key to a successful electric school bus transition. 4. Evaluate Existing School Bus Routes Understanding the range capabilities of electric school buses is crucial in planning their deployment. Evaluate the existing school bus routes to determine which ones fall within the electric school bus range. Calculate the distance each bus can cover on a single charge within your specific environment. This evaluation will help identify routes that can comfortably be serviced by electric school buses without requiring on-route charging. 5. Selecting AC vs DC Chargers Based on Route Analysis In determining the appropriate charging infrastructure, route analysis is critical. Routes with shorter distances and predictable schedules may be suitable for AC (alternating current) chargers. AC chargers are often slower but more cost-effective to install. On the other hand, routes with longer distances or tight schedules may benefit from DC (direct current) fast chargers. DC chargers offer rapid charging capabilities, ensuring the buses can quickly recharge during breaks or at the depot, enabling efficient operations. By following these steps and focusing on evaluating existing school bus routes to determine the best fit for electric school bus range, you can set your school district or transportation authority on the path toward sustainable and efficient student transportation. Electric school buses not only benefit the environment but also contribute to safer and quieter neighborhoods, creating a better future for our communities. Heliox provides world-class EV charging and smart energy management solutions that are tailored and scalable within a fast-changing e-mobility landscape, working towards a sustainable world where a seamless charging experience is the standard for everyone. Founded in 2009, Heliox is a market leader in fast charging systems for public transport, e-trucks, marine, mining and port equipment. Visit www.heliox.com for more information.