Each June for the past 35 years, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has provided required advanced training for school bus drivers, transportation directors and other student transportation drivers.
The training is a mix of classroom discussion and hands-on exercises covering driving, student safety on and off the bus, and emergency evacuation.
This year, Danielle Kneisly, a senior at Vandalia-Butler High School in Montgomery County, her parents Kim and Mike Bish, and her service dog BoBo were on hand at the student evacuation drill sessions on June 11 and 12 to add insight and realism to the evacuation drills. Danielle, a special needs student with mobility issues, is transported to school on a bus via wheelchair. BoBo rides the bus and attends classes with her.
During the classroom portion of the training, Robert Harmon, ODE's transportation services supervisor, shared Ohio's evacuation training and special needs transportation requirements. Kim Bish shared their family's experience with incorporating BoBo into Danielle's routine, including the bus ride to and from school each day.
Then, Danielle and BoBo were part of the hands-on evacuation drill from a smoke-filled bus of students. Other attendees played the rolls of students of all ages with special needs. The thick smoke created by a smoke machine on board quickly eliminated visibility, increasing the challenge for the participants to safely locate each other, free Danielle's secured wheel chair and safely evacuate her and BoBo from the bus.
According to Harmon, Danielle and BoBo were the first live student and service animal team to participate in this type of training, which in the past relied on a stuffed animal and a training mannequin in a wheelchair.
"Danielle and Bobo infused our drill with a realism that allowed participants to take knowledge with them to be better prepared to react to a similar situation in real-time should they have to," Harmon added.