One of the biggest concerns Diana Rose-Gates has is the limited interaction she has with special education members of her school district's IEP team.
"We don't see each other often," said the physical therapist and special needs transportation liaison for Caddo Parish Schools in Shreveport, La.
Rose-Gates and Kala Henkensiefken, the transportation coordinator for Brainerd Public School District and the president of the Minnesota Association for Pupil Transportation, shared ideas at the Transporting Students with Disabilities and Preschoolers National Conference in Nashville, Tenn. About 80 attendees discussed how to foster better communication and teamwork between special ed, transportation, parents and other stakeholders when determining transportation services called for by the IEP. In essence, they discussed concrete moves to be a team.
The workshop, aptly named "Beyond Pizza and Politics: Best Ideas for IEP Team Building," aimed to deal with frustrations felt by transporters who always seem to be the last to know when a service is agreed upon that might prove to be extremely challenging, costly or even impossible. Federal law, however, puts the onus on getting the job done, which requires a perfect blend of quick thinking, problem solving and nimble maneuvering.
Rose-Gates said there are plenty of free resources, or at least very inexpensive ones, that are available to both student transporters and special educators. They can also share their resources. Some examples include training, equipment, behavior specialists, funds and grant opportunities, and even staff.
Rose-Gates and Henkensiefken also discussed tips for keeping student information confidential, such as coding data, storing it in locked boxes or bags on the bus during routes and then removing them to a safe location and keeping a route book on the bus that stays with the driver at all times. Henkensiefken said she uses Google Docs to share information or to disallow submission of paperwork until certain fields are filled out.
Henkensiefken said the biggest disservice transportation does for special-education students is to "coddle them." For example, door-to-door service should only be used for specific children who need it, not all students regardless of the disability or mental capacity. Instead, transportation should work with a transition teacher to integrate students, when appropriate, with their regular education peers and should promote such measures as common bus stops to walk to and gather at with other special education students before getting on the bus.
Rose-Gates advised that students with high-functioning Autism could be used as school bus attendants for younger students.
"We are supposed to be preparing them for life," Henkensiefken added.