EXPO SESSION SHARES SPECIAL ED INDEPENDENCE STRATEGIES
August 11, 2016
By: Barb Fasing
Transporters must think like educators to help school districts overcome barriers to education for students with special needs, said presenter Pete Meslin during the recent STN EXPO in Reno, Nevada.
“In transportation, we must think like educators,” Meslin, director of transportation for Newport-Mesa Unified School District in California, said during the aptly named session “Overcoming Barriers to Education” on July 25. “Kids are kids; some have disabilities, and some don’t. Those who do, may need to have more accommodations.”
Meslin explained how transitional transportation for special needs students must be put in place. For example, transportation can begin with student pickup at curbside, then gradually move to a centralized location. The next step could be utilizing public transportation and then, in some cases the student being, taught to even walk to school.
Also, Meslin explained how transportation staff tends to help parents support the child rather than to help the parent to teach the student to be more independent. “We will all do what we can to shelter students,” he explained.
Meslin defined a transitional bus stop as any location away from the front of the student’s home. The transitional bus stop can even be as close as one or two houses down the street from the student’s home, at least initially. If that transition meets with success after, say, three months, Meslin advised student transporters to ask, “Is the student ready; can we move the stop to the corner?” Many parents are afraid of what will happen to the child, he added..
If the stop is gradually moved further, step by step, the child may become sufficiently comfortable to be moved to a centralized neighborhood stop. Individuals with Educational Disabilities Act, Meslin said, requires that school districts move students to a more independent setting and treat students in a more ideal setting.
Meslin addressed the frequent issue of parental resistance and how to address it. Meslin said from his point of view that student transporters should begin with first talking with parents. Transportation personnel can communicate that it’s a “team effort.” Parents can be offered the least resistive environment, knowing that the parents greatest interest and fear is for the safety of their child.
Parents should be shown in multiple ways that their concerns are recognized. Public Relations is quite important in the process, said Meslin. Also, the kids need to try to communicate effectively.
Whenever possible, transportation should be in partnership with the teacher and make it all about the student. When interacting with students, transportation staff are advised to stay calm and positively reinforce behavior. Low functioning (non-verbal) students need to be rewarded with positive comments.
Meslin also recommended transportation staff to involved in IEP meetings, speak the language of the teachers and school staff, be prepared to understand their language, deliver misconduct reports, and understand any accommodations placed in the IEPs. Perhaps, he added, teach the students how to carry and use bus passes like general education students, and be certain to assist school staff and teach the students life skills.
In taking the step by step method for helping students reach for independence that Meslin outlined, he predicted that operations can be a part of the solution for the student’s needs and not be the part of the problem.