Friday, August 20, 2010
Yesterday was the last day of ESY (extended school year) services for Ashley. For the last seven weeks, she has gone to school Monday through Thursday from 8am until noon, all in an attempt to keep her skills from regressing. The actual classroom services were largely a waste of time, but that is not what this blog post is about. This post is about school bus services.
Yes, I know, I have written many times in the past about the issues surrounding bus transportation in my school district. Well this post is not going to dwell totally on the negative. Bus services were, for the most part, excellent this summer. They did however start to fall apart this last week of school. And, I have a few suggestions so that doesn’t happen in the future.
The important and very positive thing about bus services this summer was that Ashley had the same bus, the same bus driver, and the same bus aide for six out of the seven weeks. That meant she could build a relationship with them, and she knew what to expect each day. She saw the same children on the bus each day, and the arrival and return times were very consistent. The driver and the aide took the time to talk to me and to get to know Ashley, and most mornings, that meant she skipped happily off to board the bus.
During this last week of school, the regular driver and aide were scheduled to attend training. That meant new staff – people who knew nothing about Ashley, people who were changing things up. And, as most parents of children with disabilities know, changing things up can be a minefield – and it was for Ashley.
So, rather than going on and on with my complaints, today I have decided to offer some suggestions!
First, I acknowledge that my school district really does want to provide acceptable transportation services. I also acknowledge that bus staff have lives too and must sometimes be out sick, out for training and other such stuff. What I would like my school district to acknowledge is that changes, even minor ones, can be very disruptive for many students with disabilities.
For example, some students like to sit in exactly the same bus seat each day. Making that student sit in a different seat could set a day of distress into motion.
Some students like to sit alone and some like to sit with a friend, often a particular friend. Deny either that accommodation, and you may get cursed, hit, bitten, etc.
Some students like music on the bus – some don’t, but all usually want things to stay the same – music or not. Play music when it hasn’t been played before, or all of a sudden stop playing the music – or God forbid, change the station, and you could have several meltdowns.
Each student on the bus has special needs, and some of those needs involve seizures or other such medical conditions. New bus staff needs to know that, or a seizure may be viewed as negative behavior. Some students may be deaf, and if the bus staff keeps talking to them and gets no response, patience will be tested. Some students may have a comfort item that goes everywhere with them. If there is no safety reason for denying that comfort item on the bus, the staff needs to know not to touch it.
These are just a few examples, things which I think could be resolved purely with communication. How hard would it be to have a diagram of the bus seats posted on each bus? Use an erasable marker to show which seat each student prefers to sit in.
Have a one page/one paragraph summary of each student’s likes and dislikes. I’m sure most parents would be happy to provide this. Keep that information in the bus, and require substitutes to read it before leaving the bus garage.
Just a few short minutes in the morning and afternoon for a substitute driver or aide to review information could make for happier students, happier parents, and an easier job for bus staff and teachers.
Do you have any other suggestions for improving school transportation and keeping everyone informed?