When reviewing student evacuation plans, all aspects of the child and the emergency should be considered. One common theme at the Transporting Students with Disabilities and Special Needs Conference held in Frisco, Texas, last month was considering each student’s ability and what they can do in an emergency, rather than focusing on their disability.
Susan Shutrump, supervisor of OT/PT services at Trumbull County Educational Service Center in Ohio and a TSD tenured faculty member, noted that when student transportation is attending Individual Education Program meetings evacuations should be included in the discussion. during the session. She made her observation during the session, “Educating Team Members in What You Need to Know: Developing the Individualized Transportation Plan.”
She commented that a challenge presented to evacuation training is that students are unpredictable. It can be difficult to predict exactly how students will react in certain situations. That makes teamwork vital. Shutrump added that all school staff members who interact with the child should be allowed to provide input on the child’s behavior when presented with certain triggers and environments. She explained that when thinking about a specific child and their behaviors, all factors need to be considered in an evacuation.
She asked, will a child need help off the bus and are they subject to running? She noted that a child who’s a runner probably shouldn’t be removed from the bus first in an emergency. This is why it’s important to involve everyone (school principals, administrators, parents, teachers, and transportation personnel) in the evacuation drills, she added. Even if those around the child predict what they think will happen, it could be completely different in a drill or actual emergency.
What about the children who are restrained in child safety restraint systems or wheelchairs? Shutrump said when evacuating, it’s best to leave the wheelchair behind as evacuations are normally under a time constraint. Additionally, no one should ever try to physically pick up a student and wheelchair together, as that could cause injury to the staff member and could take additional time. However, she said transportation staff needs to be trained on how to properly remove and transport a student out of their chair. She advised writing each child’s individual evacuation plan into their IEP.
“That way, there’s no one saying we didn’t know,” she said.
Trumbull County ESC also provides an Individual Transportation Plan that includes student information such as name, photo (with parent permission), passenger conditions, emergency evacuation plan, and specific pick-up or drop-off procedures. It also includes parent consent and the name of the child’s healthcare provider.
The ITP is printed and placed in a binder with info from all students on that route for the school bus driver (or sub-driver) to grab with their bus keys each day. She noted an advantage of having the photos of the children, is if the school bus driver is unconscious during a route and 911 is called. Responding emergency personnel can correctly identify each student and their individual needs.
Other sessions at TSD also discussed the IEP process and included information on evacuations. Winship Wheatley, a consultant and attorney who facilitated the panel session, “Emergency Planning Strategies for Special Needs & Preschool Transporters,” advised that it is not feasible to include every detail in writing. He explained that one of the biggest mistakes transportation staff can make is overpromising by writing rules and regulations that are not realistically achievable during a crisis.
Kala Henkensiefken, special education transportation manager for Bemidji Area Schools in Minnesota, added that allowing school nurses and parents to board school buses during the IEP planning process will enable them to see first-hand if the options being discussed can really be executed.
Meanwhile, Diandra Neugent, transportation manager for the Community Council of Idaho Head Start operation, reminded attendees that an IEP is a legal document. While she agreed with training and documenting, she also cautioned about creating a written IEP record of all the details.
The planning process is great, the panelists agreed, noting that amid a crisis a determination must be made if it’s going to be the child’s worst or day or last day. Wheatley noted that if anything goes wrong during either a mock or real school bus evacuation, lawyers will become involved. After including information in the IEP on the preferred way to transfer the child in an evacuation, for example, dragging the student away from the bus on a blanket, he said a disclaimer should be added that states transportation will do whatever it takes to get the child out of and away from the vehicle.
“This is what we hope to able to do, but things might be different in an actual evacuation,” he noted.
Launi Harden, an industry consultant and the latest addition to the TSD tenured faculty, advised setting measurable goals in the IEP. For instance, she advised a goal could be that in six months a child would be able to exit the rear door by themselves. She added that the best person to plan an evacuation is the driver and the attendants, as they should know best each student’s strengths.
Editor’s Note: Read more about evacuation training and a hands-on exercise at the TSD Conference in the upcoming January issue of School Transportation News.