School Bus Driver Training: Working With Special Needs Students
published on October 16, 2019 by Sonia Mastros
Last month, a potentially very dangerous mistake occurred in Waterloo, Iowa: A school bus driver mistakenly dropped off an autistic girl at the wrong location. Unsupervised, she wandered more than a mile away and was found at a local Target. Fortunately, she was entirely unharmed.
According to the story, this happened due to multiple failures:
1. She was placed on the wrong bus by administrators.
2. The driver did not see or did not know about the lanyard around her neck identifying her as special needs and indicating the proper bus.
3. No adult accompanied her when she departed the bus, despite this being part of her IEP.
To the driver's slight credit, the girl was not dropped off at a random location. She was taken to her home, but the driver did not realize she was supposed to be taken to daycare instead. Still, the numerous points of failure here suggest several areas where school bus driver training should emphasize the importance of vigilance when working with special needs students.
School Bus Driver Training Needs to Take Special Needs Students Into Account
1. Have Extremely Clear Procedures for Dealing With Special Needs Students
One unclear aspect of this story is whether the bus driver understood the importance of the lanyard around the girl's neck. Either way, this suggests a training deficiency. If such lanyards are standard procedure, then this should have been hammered home in training.
Whatever your procedures are regarding special needs students on buses, this should be a key focus in your training.
2. IEPs Need to Be Followed to the Letter
The driver wasn't the only one at fault here: Someone within the school district put her on the wrong bus in the first place. Further, she was supposed to have adult accompaniment, which does not appear to have happened either. Clearly, the girl's IEP was not followed.
This could have been avoided with better driver training as well. Drivers should absolutely be part of discussions of IEP and other individualized student accommodations. A special needs student should not be able to get on a bus without that driver knowing what accommodations are needed.
3. Getting to Know Students Helps Avoid Problems
Apparently the bus driver knew the girl since the driver knew where she lived. So why didn't the driver know that she used a daycare in the afternoon?
This illustrates why it's a good idea for drivers to get to know their students, and try to talk to them when possible. Training for this can also improve on-bus behavior since students who feel respected are less likely to act out.
What do you think? How would your district avoid an incident like this? Let us know in the comments!