ow many wheelchairs can you fit on a bus? The answer to this deceptive math problem depends on several very hu- man and situation-specific variables. “I hate to get into numbers,” said Sue Shut-

rump, supervisor of occupational and physical therapy services for Trumbull County Educa- tional Service Center in Ohio. She’s been with the county since 1983, helping hundreds of students with orthopedic disabilities, autism, and intellectual or cognitive disabilities navigate the education system. Shutrump said designing an individual transportation plan, or ITP, is a team effort that should involve the entire team that is work- ing on a student’s individualized education program, or IEP, from parents and students to transportation management and teachers. But she always advocates for the least intrusive options first. “Can a student ride a traditional bus? If not,

can they ride the traditional bus with accommo- dation and support? If that’s not a yes, then do they need to ride a special route with supports, and if so, what are those?” Shutrump asked. “We really take a least-restrictive approach in looking at providing what’s necessary to keep them safe that also promotes their independence.” Many experts agree that it is safer for students to

ride on a school bus bench seat that is specifically designed for transportation, versus a wheelchair that is designed for street mobility. In addition to being safe, transferring students onto bench seats allows students who have physical disabilities to share the same experiences as their typically developing peers. But what about medically fragile students who cannot be safely moved from their wheelchair? Don Moore, executive director of transportation for Gwinnett County Schools District in Georgia, has embarked on an education campaign to encourage families to purchase chairs that are compliant with WC19 standards. Developed by the Rehabilitation Engineering

and Assistive Technology Society of North America, WC19 designs include lap belts, and are marked for tie-downs, to safely double as seats in a moving vehicle. “Every single wheelchair is different,” Moore

said. “If it’s not a WC19 wheelchair, you’re still obligated to transport, as long as you do it safely. But now, you’re having to determine where do

I hook this and where do I wrap that around to make it safe.” For wheelchairs that lack markings for tie-

downs, Moore recommends getting parental permission to mark the wheelchairs with tape to ensure they are properly secured, no matter who is driving the bus that day. As the third largest public-school district

in the U.S. in terms of student transportation, Gwinnett County buses 133,700 students daily on Type C vehicles, including 6,047 students with special needs on 642 specially equipped buses. The district has 546 buses with wheel- chair lifts and uses zero vans. “When I came onboard 20 years ago, some of our buses were transporting up to five wheel- chairs per bus,” Moore recalled. “And I stopped that practice for a number of reasons. One, the safety of the students because the question would be, if you get five wheelchairs on the bus, what happens if you have to evacuate? “Second was just the wear and tear on our

drivers and monitors. If you’ve never tied down a wheelchair, it’s a little involved. You’re in tight spaces on the bus, and down on your knees and all that.”

Depending on the needs of the child, Moore said district policy is to place one to two wheel- chairs on each bus. “Obviously, that increases the number of buses that we bring into the school on a given day by going from five to two. But I don’t think anyone questioned the fact, because a school bus can be engulfed in flames in three minutes,” Moore added. The rule of thumb for seating bus capacity

What type of school bus configuration with wheelchair lifts does your operation most often specify?

Type C: 56% Type A: 32% Other:

12% (Out of 261 responses to a recent STN reader survey.) 29

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