After attending the Transporting Children with Special Needs and Preschoolers National Conference in Orlando, Fla., last month, I am once again so impressed with the passion school bus drivers have for their work. Although all bus drivers I’ve had the privilege to know over the past eight years have impressed me, none more so than those who drive preschool and special education students.
Transporting these special students requires a working knowledge of Child Safety Restraint Systems (CSRS) and school bus seating. Not every CSRS will work on every bus seat. If there are no seat belts, a CSRS that attaches to the seat with a cam wrap may be necessary. If the seat does have a seat belt but the webbing is long, the belt may need to be retrofitted with a shorter one for proper CSRS installation.
Some buses have integrated CSRS that can be good solution for preschool-aged children. In general, each child needs to be weighed and measured and have behavioral needs evaluated to determine what type of CSRS will be the most appropriate. These efforts must be undertaken before the route can be driven for the first time and re-evaluated several times a year.
Children in wheelchairs pose many additional transportation issues. For instance, can the rider be transferred from his/her wheelchair to the school bus seat or a CSRS? How can the wheelchair be safely tied down on the bus? Is the wheelchair in good working condition? Does it meet the WC19 voluntary standards for wheelchairs used in transportation? Is there special equipment or medication that also needs to be transported? Each of these questions alone can be daunting, but when combined I can see how the situation can become overwhelming for drivers and aides, and yet the ones I know take on the challenge every day without complaint.
In general, drivers and aides that I’ve met who transport these children seem to have two traits in common: a great sense of humor and unlimited patience. They attend conferences and training, both required and voluntary, with an enthusiasm and optimism that I find admirable. They often have funny, touching stories about “their kids” to share. They act as caregivers, nurses and reliable friends to their passengers each day and, in an emergency, they’re prepared to respond as rescuers, as well. I think these people are some of the best on earth!
Betty Mason is a certified passenger safety technician and the school bus specialist for Safe Ride News.