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The latest survey from School Transportation News explored the various aspects of transporting special-needs children, including wheelchair safety, fire suppression technology and the growing rate of students diagnosed with autism.

St. Mary’s County Public Schools in Maryland reported that nearly 20 percent of their 275 school buses are devoted to transporting 400 special-needs children.  Some of those students use wheelchairs, however, according to Jeffrey Thompson, the director of transportation, the problem is not with the tie downs to secure the wheelchair, but when a student does not have a wheelchair that is designed for the student to be transported in.

Biloxi Public Schools in Mississippi transports 100 special-needs students and is currently adapting for WC19-compliant wheelchair guidelines.  Transportation director, Sam Bailey, has stated that the wheelchairs can be bulky and difficult to anchor in some type of buses.

Schools around the country have also seen a rise in the number of children diagnosed with autism.  Almost 90 percent of all survey responses confirmed this fact.  It also confirmed that students with autism require tackling several logistical concerns such as training bus staff on behavioral and communication strategies, and that some schools have no such training or do not update the training as needed.

Respondents also stated that the numerous news reports nationwide over the last year on school buses bursting into flames are overblown.  The suppression systems are touted as providing valuable time to evacuate students, especially those with special needs and they have yet to see the issue as a pressing crisis.

Most respondents did state that they think attention should be focused on crash avoidance systems, especially in the “Danger Zone”, (10 to 15 feet around the bus), as we discussed in a recent blog.

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