"We have 50 medically fragile kids while most districts across Texas have only one or two," explains Dr. Ray Turner, special needs transportation coordinator for Northside.
The 50 medically fragile students alone require eight small buses with lifts.
Beyond basic training
department's ability to run a safe, successful operation, despite the challenges presented by population growth and increased special services, to driver training.
"My heart is in training, training, training.
The content, frequency and appropriateness of our training means we expect excellence - and we get it," says Turner
's training program, created 15 years ago, includes the typical driver training components, such as CDL licensing and district policies and procedures, with innovative and in-depth training in behavior management, medical emergencies and more.
"Student management is the core component for every new employee we train," says Turner
Required of drivers every two years, Northside's student management training incorporates the nonviolent crisis intervention training program offered through the Crisis Prevention Institute, for which Turner is an instructor.
All district drivers are certified in first aid and CPR, but special-needs drivers must undergo further training in disabilities, lift operation, wheelchair tie-downs and much more.
A year ago, Northside
's special-needs transportation manual, authored by Turner
, won the Best Training Handbook (Local) Award at the National Conference on Transporting Students with Disabilities and Preschoolers.
has also equipped each lift bus with a large, wool army blanket strong enough to drag a 200- to 300-pound person from the bus in an emergency situation.
says that air conditioning is a must for new buses equipped with wheelchair lifts because the power system is under incredible stress when running a lift, and a bus is susceptible to overheating when its doors are opened and closed frequently.
A key step in assessing the "health" of a vehicle, says Turner
, is considering the lifetime of its wheelchair lift.
When will it fail?
Will you have to pull a bus out in the middle of a route to replace a down lift?
"Children these days have heavier wheelchairs - we have one little lady who weighs 80 pounds, and her
equipment weighs 450 pounds.
That's hard on a lift," says Turner
, noting that it reduces the survivability of the lift and necessitates more repairs.
Changes in wheelchair sizes and styles are a growing concern to student transportation personnel everywhere, he
Another difficulty Turner
is encountering is the growing popularity of sports wheelchairs among high school students.
Sports wheelchairs do not fit easily onto regular lifts because the wheels are beveled out, and stability is compromised when going up and down the lift.
says some of these wheelchairs also lack back support or fail to provide an effective lap belt.