Working Together to Provide Unique Transportation

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One school district, one state director and a handful of industry reps come together in this very special case

Editor’s note: The family involved in the following article asked not to be named.

Conjoined twins are a rare phenomenon, with an estimated occurrence from 1 in 50,000 births to 1 in 200,000 births and an overall survival rate of approximately 25 percent. Only 2 percent of these birth are known as craniopagus, where the twins are connected at the head. As one could imagine, this would make for an extremely difficult ride to and from school. One school district in Ohio was recently faced with this challenge and enlisted a number of different industry representatives to find the best solution possible.

“Part of the responsibility of providing safe and reliable transportation services for all students is the need for transportation providers to operate within highly prescribed transportation guidelines while at the same time having the resources to manage new and different situations successfully,” said Pete Japikse, the state’s pupil transportation director. “The recent case in Ohio exemplifies the capacity and strength of the pupil transportation system to manage unique needs while also working within all of these safety guidelines.”

This past fall, a pair of conjoined sisters were ready to begin their first year of school, but the issue of appropriate and safe transportation had not yet been resolved. The transportation director, not sure what to do, began making calls to the state, as well as to a rep from CE White. The next link in the telephone chain led to Bob Rubin of Easy Way Safety Services.

“I offered two or three suggestions, none of which were truly practical. It was at that point that I said to myself: ‘Lets go to the one lady who can make this thing happen,’” said Rubin.

With a background as a registered nurse, Connie Murray, president of E-Z On Products of Florida, was the ideal candidate to make this possible. Her first thought was to transport the sisters laying down.

“I had suggested that they lay one bus seat backwards, so that you’d have the two seats together, but the state patrol said no,” said Murray.

After her initial idea was sidelined, Murray requested photos of the girls and dimensions of the CE White seat that would be used. Once she received everything, she grabbed a yellow legal pad and started working on a custom design. The trick was that one girl would have to sit sideways and the other facing forward. The sisters’ unique congenital condition also played a factor into the design.

“The head strap was the biggest concern; its where most of the loading would have been and a lot of damage could be done if their heads weren’t restrained,” said Murray.

After completing her design on paper, she moved into the shop to test out her idea. To recreate the necessary seating positions of the two little girls, Murray tied the heads of two display dolls together like the twins — one sideways and one forward facing. After some rethinking and a few design adjustments, Murray was able to finalize the new vests.

“It took us probably two days before we got it just right, which wasn’t bad. The whole process was complete in a couple of weeks.”

The custom vests and their related instructions were soon sent out to the transportation director and the eagerly awaiting sisters. Shortly after, Murray received a phone call from the transportation director.

“The little gals loved it. They laughed and were really pleased that they could finally ride the school bus,” said Murray. “It feels just incredible. I don’t do it for the publicity, I just do it because I’m helping somebody.”

The events that led to this happy ending involved numerous levels of the school bus industry — from the local and state, to the dealers and finally the manufacturers. There have been a speed bump or two along the way, but nothing could stop what one simple phone call initiated.

“The chain of resources must be kept intact,” concluded Japikse. “This chain could have broken at many places — by a district supervisor who simply said ‘no’ to the parent without asking for help; by a state department official who could have said ‘no’ to the use of any different seating adjuncts in a school bus; by an industry manufacturer’s representative who said ‘no, we can’t solve your problem’ and ‘no we will not give you references to anyone else who could.’ The beauty of this case is that the chain is not broken. And children are the winners because of that.”

Reprinted from the February 2008 issue of School Transportation News magazine. All rights reserved.