photo courtesy Eiden Lee
With the recent headlines of another student with special education needs losing his life on a bus, it’s time to insist that transportation providers participate in the IEP team process. It’s time because we should not tolerate one more tragedy of a student with disabilities who loses their life for lack of planning.
19-year-old Paul Lee, who had autism and was non-verbal, was discovered in the aisle of a school bus in the Whittier Union High School District lot in California. His sister, Eiden, 24, says “I can’t even imagine how… I’m so sure that he was so scared. “Probably he was thinking about us. ‘Where’s my sister, where’s mom, why isn’t anyone opening the door for me?’ “He sees the school in front of him, but the door is locked. Other people would have just honked [to attract attention]. But he didn’t know to do that. My only hope is that this never ever happens to anyone. I hope they reinforce the protocols, make them stronger. We need justice for Paul. I don’t want his death to mean nothing.”– People.com September 15, 2015
So what can you, as a parent, do?
First and foremost, our hearts go out to the Lee family. We offer these suggestions for transportation plans as part of our small effort to help parents avoid close calls or tragedies.
1) Insist on inviting the transportation company, driver and/or aide to the IEP team meeting. Like other members of the school team, they must be aware of the student’s transportation needs, plans or protocols. Parents are entitled to invite people to the IEP meeting, and just because the school district claims that the transportation company is a “separate entity,” does not excuse the school district from their obligation to provide appropriate transportation as a related service.
2) Insist upon written transportation plans and protocols addressing your child’s specific needs and issues and that these additionally be documented in the IEP. DO NOT accept just checking off a box that says “special transportation” if your child requires more detail than this. For example, is air-conditioning a must in a vehicle due to a seizure disorder? If so, make sure this is spelled out in the IEP. Does your child require a 1:1 paraprofessional on the bus to be safe? Then that should be in writing.
3) Insist upon regularly scheduled trainings on your child’s transportation plans, protocols and specific issues Those trainings should also be spelled out as one of the IEP Team Meeting’s recommendations, or listed as a necessary support.
4) Make sure any plans and protocols are reviewed regularly, minimally at the annual review IEP team meeting.
5) We are amazed it’s not required in all states for ALL students, but why not adding language to your child’s transportation description that notes that the bus driver will not leave the bus until a bus-check has been performed? This simple procedure can save lives, and is essential for students who are non-verbal or otherwise unable to communicate distress.
Julie’s Own Close-Call
While my transportation nightmare did not end in tragedy, it shook me to the core and changed my approach to my son’s transportation plan.
My son travels alone on a van with a driver and an aide. One day I received a panicked phone call from his aide, a lovely retired gentleman, who informed me that the new(ish) male driver intentionally took off from the bus yard without him for the return trip from school. He told me he was very suspicious of the driver’s intentions. I quickly called my son’s school to alert them not to let my son go home in the van alone with the driver. It was too late, they had already put him on the van. My next call was the police. That day my son arrived home a half hour later than usual. Since my son is non-verbal, he was not able to tell me if anything had happened. I confronted the new driver and lambasted him for leaving without his aide. It didn’t matter what his excuse was, I knew in my heart his excuse was not truthful. The fact is that I will never forget that day because I had to do a body check on my son to see if I could see if anything abusive had taken place.
I realized that my son had a driving team that consisted of two men. While I appreciate the fact that my son could potentially be taken advantage of by both women and men, I decided that I would feel more comfortable if I insisted upon a woman being part of his driving team.
After I insisted that the driver never be anywhere near my son again, I insisted on a meeting with the transportation company. I had always been told “we can’t tell the transportation company what to do.” That was not an acceptable answer for me. It shouldn’t be for you either.
With my son’s IEP team, we designed and implemented a transportation plan and protocols. His school operates under a protocol that he can not get in the van without the driver and the aide present. The transportation company operates under the plan and protocols. Every year at his annual review, we review the transportation plan. Most recently, my son’s aide retired. I picked up the phone to the transportation company and provided a friendly reminder to follow our protocols when hiring the new person. Am I a pain in the neck? You bet I am!