Featured during last month’s STN EXPO was a workshop focusing on three different perspectives of transportation for students with special needs.
Michael Benedict, a former student with disabilities himself, spoke from both a student’s and an attendant’s point of view. Benedict, who previously served as a bus attendant in Provo, Utah and is now a safety consultant, said putting students with disabilities by themselves on the bus is not advisable, and it is of key importance not to underestimate the intelligence of those students. Benedict also encouraged transportation departments to practice safety procedures such as evacuations more than twice a year.
From another perspective, Kathy Furneaux, the executive director at Pupil Transportation Safety Institute (PTSI) in Syracuse, New York, joined Benedict on the July 25 session “Bus Ride Perspectives from an Attendant and a Transportation Director” and spoke from her 36 years of transportation experience as a driver, attendant, trainer and director. She stressed the importance of placing students in the least restrictive environment, or LRE. While keeping the students in a very safe setting, Furneaux added, “Foster independence for the students and be certain to respect what they are each capable of.”
Benedict continued by saying that middle school and high school students can be a dangerous mix on the bus. Saving money, fuel and time by mixing age groups on routes may be one option to realize efficiencies, he said, but that may also lead to students being exposed to incidents such as bullying or worse. Complaints from parents may be easily avoided when drivers are trained properly to manage behavior of varying ages students.
Furneaux went on to say that students must always be visible to bus staff and that interaction with students is a priority. Furneaux pointed out that a transportation director, or trainer, can never assume that training is being followed and drivers must be randomly monitored for their compliance. Furneaux encouraged the attendees to observe staff in other areas around the department, such as in the drivers lounge, and not just on the bus. She encouraged attendees to pay attention to how the drivers are speaking about students and how they are interacting with each other.
According to Furneaux, managers and trainers need to know about the needs stated within the students Individualized Education Program, or IEP. Staff needs to understand and know what the student’s needs are.
Benedict explained how there may be a resentment in the balance of duties between the driver and the attendant or aide. Often, the driver and attendant may resolve the difficulty by talking about the issue together. If the resentment continues, managers are advised to ask the attendants what would make them more comfortable. Work must be done to reduce tension.
“Use of the job description is often an effective way to explain job duties to the parties involved,” said Furneaux. Communicate specific expectations, discuss philosophies, and find a balance in a mediation process. Both driver and attendant are equally valuable.
Benedict said that discussions regarding the conflicts must be discussed in private, not in front of the students. Lack of trust between the driver and attendant makes it difficult to feel like a team, he added.
Creating a trusting relationship with your staff, explained Furneaux, is very important. She asked, “Do you have a reputation of looking the other way? Your expectations must be consistent with all your staff members.” Furneaux explained the importance of follow-up conversations especially once the issue has been mediated.
Benedict concluded his portion of the presentation by stating that respect needs to be learned as well as eaned, trust must be developed, teamwork is a must, and most importantly, communicate constantly.
In conclusion, Furneaux summed up the workshop asking managers to be role models for their staff and she urged attendees to allow their staff members to feel valued by their organization.