VALRICO — One driver said he never received any hands-on training about how to handle the students with disabilities he transports to and from school every day. Another spoke of being bitten, hit, kicked, and soiled on by students.
The straps used to secure wheelchairs on buses are rotting and the radios used to report problems are unreliable.
Monday night, dozens of Hillsborough County school district transportation employees took to the microphones during a community town hall meeting at the Farm Bureau building in Valrico to tell school board members about these issues and others within their department and to suggest solutions.
The first of several community meetings school board member April Griffin plans to host, Monday’s town hall drew about 90 people. The drivers of regular buses came, as well as those who transport the district’s most medically fragile children. Also in the crowd were aides, teachers and parents.
In addition to Griffin, two other members of the seven-member board – Cindy Stuart and Susan Valdes – showed up to listen.
“This is really good information,” Stuart said. “It’s the God’s honest truth and we don’t get that all the time.”
The meetings come as a consultant conducts a review of district transportation and helps the board come up with a plan for replacing aging school buses. Separately, the district’s Office of Professional Standards is investigating concerns raised by some transportation employees. Last week, district staff gave a presentation to the school board on improvements that have been made to the department since a task force was put together 16 months ago.
Paula Polson, an exceptional student education teacher and the parent of a fourth-grader with intellectual disabilities, said she has been called twice in the last two weeks because her daughter’s school bus had broken down.
“As a parent and teacher, it’s very concerning there are no working radios on the buses,” said Polson, who teaches at Eisenhower Middle School. “This is 2014. There’s no excuse.”
Peggy Raiton, an attendant on a bus that transports students with special needs, said it’s not just the bus drivers that need more training.
“I am finding these attendants that get on these buses have no idea how to handle a medical emergency,” Raiton said. “There has to be better training for the aides on the buses that handle these medically fragile children.”
Griffin said details from her town halls will be turned in to the district.