Ventura County Civil Grand Jury announces release of report on school bus safety for special education students

Most local special education school bus drivers are performing their duties alone, while also attending to student behavior issues occurring on the bus. Given that school bus drivers have, by law, sole responsibility for rider safety and discipline on the bus, the 2020-2021 Ventura County Grand Jury (Grand Jury) examined the challenges that can emerge when transporting special education students.

The Grand Jury found that a special education school bus driver is required to do an extraordinarily demanding set of tasks. They must drive a bus through city streets and traffic, obeying all laws, while simultaneously monitoring the behavior of every student on board. This creates the potential for distracted driving and for unchecked student behavior that could jeopardize the welfare of other students and the driver. The Grand Jury commends school bus drivers in Ventura County (County) for accomplishing a demanding set of tasks: simultaneously driving a bus and responding to behavioral issues during the bus ride.

The Grand Jury investigation focused on a particularly vulnerable population of special education students who have an increased need for supervision on a school bus: students with diagnoses of autism, emotional or behavioral issues, combined loss of hearing and vision, medically fragile and non-verbal or those who are otherwise unable to speak out or defend themselves.

The Grand Jury examined policies and practices at the Ventura County Office of Education (VCOE) because of its broad scope of experience, support for all school districts in the County and its operation of several schools for populations in need of specialized education. VCOE also provides daily busing for more than 900 special education students in the County. The Grand Jury commends VCOE for its proactive, ongoing, and pertinent training for bus drivers.

Ventura County Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPA) develops and administers programs and workshops for teachers and parents of special education students, including guidance on development of Individual Education Plans (IEP).

The Grand Jury commends SELPA for providing information and support to families of children with special needs.

After analyzing VCOE transportation policy, the Grand Jury recommends that VCOE:

  • Include transportation personnel in scheduled student IEP meetings under specific conditions when the student needs adaptive or assistive equipment, when school bus equipment is required to be modified, or a when a behavior intervention plan is to be implemented for pupils exhibiting severe behavioral difficulties.
    • Adopt a standardized, predictive approach of analyzing data from Bus Conduct Report Forms to identify trends in behaviors that lead to unsafe situations, with the goal of developing specific strategies to minimize those risks.
  • Adopt a procedure by which a VCOE administrator can evaluate the need for, and request, a bus attendant.
    • Adopt a procedure that relates to strategies for assuring increased supervision and a safe environment on a school bus. Strategies could include assigning bus attendants to buses carrying students of higher risk, for example, autistic, emotionally disturbed, or deaf/blind students. Another strategy could be installing internal cameras or other innovative systems on special education school buses.
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