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.