Resources Special Needs Related Articles Going Forward by Examining Gaps in Effective Communication
Going Forward by Examining Gaps in Effective Communication PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. Linda Bluth   
Tuesday, 01 August 2006 00:00

For the past decade, one of my most rewarding job responsibilities has been resolving parent complaints regarding the transportation of students with disabilities. Annually I prepare myself for the first two weeks of school and the magnitude of transportation-related complaints, valid and invalid alike.

During this time I become a household name. It feels as if there is an invisible sign over my head reading: “Are you unhappy with your child’s transportation services? If so, call Linda Bluth.”

Parent advocate groups, who are all quick to share my phone number, know my commitment and respect for yellow bus transportation. I must admit I find it gratifying to resolve problems that result in students getting to school for access to appropriate special education services. However, I don’t deny I find it wearisome when parent complaints lack a sense of reality, especially when it comes to unanticipated transportation challenges such as road detours or inclement weather being the source of a late bus arrival.

This past school year, my favorite complaint that required me not to say what I was really thinking involved a 10-year-old student who received special education and transportation services. His parent was demanding to have “No Parking” signs put up in her cul-de-sac after she claimed her child’s individualized education program (IEP) and entitled him to curb-to-curb pick-up instead of at the regular pick-up location on the corner of her street.

The reason provided for this seemingly simple request was to allow the big bus to come right into the cul-de-sac while she could observe her child walk from her front door to his school bus. During my follow-up to this call, I learned this same child rode his bicycle in his neighborhood unsupervised and navigated the school building safely on his own. I need not say any more about my response or the validity of this complaint.

However, it is my position to look into the facts behind each complaint. I use a detailed form to ensure the information I obtain from the individual over the phone is recorded in a standardized manner, and I keep a record of my response time to each complaint or inquiry. As strange as the cul-de-sac phone call may appear, I have discovered even stranger complaints may have a valid basis after I have played detective.

Each year I ask myself the same question: why can’t school districts put into place an effective mechanism to address transportation concerns and complaints? After years of receiving transportation complaint calls I have categorized complaints into two distinct categories, those that are isolated complaints and those of a systemic nature. Why don’t school districts sit down and try to eliminate as many systemic complaints as possible and implement a customer support process for addressing complaints? It all appears so simple. What am I missing?

When I take a look at the transportation industry there is no question about the progress in building more reliable buses, better child safety seats, efficiency in bus lift systems, and incorporating proven technology. But human communication is a completely different matter. Clearly the advances in hardware and technology have been unmatched by similar improvements in basic human communication and customer service. In fact, I question if we are trying to use technology to over compensate for communication failures. Are we shamefully overlooking and underestimating the value of personal communication?

Too many of the complaint calls I receive are the result of parents being unable to reach a person who is able to respond to their concerns in a timely manner.

requently, I have experienced this same frustration. Last year a parent actually asked me if I was a recording. While I laughed silently, I took this as an unfortunate commentary. School districts can resolve transportation complaints by finding meaningful solutions in a timely manner and valuing communication. This may be the missing link to satisfactory service delivery!

When I explained to a parent about driver shortages and the reason for her child’s delay in being picked up the first week of school she asked, “Why didn’t the school district take the time to share this information?” While this was not an acceptable excuse for not picking up her child on time, I provided an honest explanation.

Here are a few simple recommendations that can make a significant difference when it comes to consumer satisfaction:

• During the first two weeks of school offer adequate, dedicated phone lines with trained staff responding to transportation complaints, issues and questions. These individuals should always provide a time frame for responding to an incoming complaint.

• School districts should use a standardized form to record complaint calls. It is also wise to set aside time to differentiate between isolated complaints and systemic complaints. Try to find solutions to systemic complaints to reduce further complaints.

• Make sure parents know the correct phone number(s) to call as well as the hours to call. It is always good to let someone know when he or she can expect a return call and the estimated time frame for resolving complaints. Follow up with the caller to make sure complaints are resolved.

• Don’t overlook gaps in service. Let me be more specific. Who is responsible for the supervision of children on school grounds between exiting the school building and getting on the school bus? Is it the transportation staff or school building staff? Can your school district provide a clear, definitive answer to this question? When does the school building staff relinquish responsibility and transportation staff assumes responsibility? I can think of a host of problems that can transpire if this question goes unanswered.

Do not pass up the opportunity this coming school year for enhancing positive communication. This priceless solution can result in many positive changes when it comes to consumer satisfaction and child safety. It is bridging the gap between advances in technology and returning to good “old-fashioned” personal communication that can result in the safest transportation possible.

Dr. Bluth is the director of the Office of Quality Assurance and Monitoring at the Maryland State Department of Education’s Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services. She can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Reprinted from the August 2006 issue of School Transportation News magazine. All rights reserved.

Last Updated on Monday, 11 January 2010 11:46