Teena Mitchell of Greenville County Schools (https://www.greenville.k12.sc.us/) says that hands-on, face-to-face training is critical, even in the wake of a pandemic
With nearly 250 special needs drivers, aides, and administrators, all working to safely transport more than 1,200 special-needs students daily, Greenville County Schools understands the importance of effectively training and testing its special-needs personnel. As the district’s special needs transportation coordinator, Teena Mitchell has continued to prioritize the safe return of students with special needs to school, well beyond COVID-19.
Mitchell currently serves on the NAPT Board, as well as the board of South Carolina Association of Pupil Transportation (SCAPT). In the last few years, Mitchell has spoken nationwide to administrators on special needs and currently works closely with the state of South Carolina and Greenville County Schools, helping to create training programs for special needs drivers and attendants, utilizing hands on and testing components, which entail a physical performance testing for all special-needs drivers and attendants.
“The pandemic has caused some concern about the hands-on and face-to-face training,” Mitchell said. “On the other hand, it has opened our eyes to the importance of this training and need for developing safe training for our drivers and attendants utilizing personal protection equipment (PPE).”
For several years, Greenville County Schools’ transportation department has recognized the significance of hands-on training and testing to better ensure that drivers, aides, and administration have the necessary abilities and skills to perform essential tasks critical to safely transporting students with special needs.
Mitchell has emphasized the need for not only specified training for special needs transportation, but for the continued education of drivers, aides, and attendants, working to provide adequate training solutions throughout COVID-19.
“When you’re dealing with training special needs drivers and personnel, it is more than just watching a video,” Mitchell said. “It really does take some hands-on experience, whether it is virtual hands-on with real-time questions and answers, or coming up with ways that you can still train your personnel and be safe.”
Mitchell notes that during testing, hands-on trainers are required to wear medical grade masks and face shields to protect themselves and their trainees.
“There really is no substitute for ensuring that the person you’re training has received that information, has applied that information, and can retain that information,” Mitchell said. “So even virtually, there has to be a hands-on component where the trainee can demonstrate their knowledge.”
Mitchell has continued to push the need for uniform training across the country, emphasizing the impact of standardization and uniformity to help implement a higher level of training nationwide. However, within the past several years, Mitchell noted that she has not observed the level development she had hoped for.
“Unfortunately, uniform training – when it comes to special needs – has not seen a lot of progress,” Mitchell said. “With special needs it’s going to have to be a nationwide effort to standardize the training. Most states across the country do not have standard training for special needs drivers and attendants, and even fewer have a testing program. It takes a more specialized type of training than your standard school bus transportation, because it is so individualized to the student.”
Mitchell explained that the best way to train special-needs drivers and personnel in evacuations is to work with students directly, enabling the drivers and attendants to familiarize themselves with characteristics of the students which allows the drivers to make safe decisions when they are on the school bus. Familiarizing themselves with specialized equipment is also important, learning to safely secure and utilize those components when transporting students.
“Moving forward, our priority is to get the districts on board for training,” she said. “People know that training is needed, but often people simply don’t know where to go to get that training. Especially districts that do not have big budgets for training. I think NAPT ACTS! is great resource for districts to find information. The more resources we have available for districts, the more we can start building the training programs. The goal is to create training that districts can enact, and which drivers and attendants can retain, to benefit the safe transportation of students with disabilities.”