Monday, July 20, 2009

School Bus Driver Unions and the Need for Special Understanding

By Peggy A. Burns

We all know that drivers of students with special needs have to be special themselves. At a recent conference, one school transportation administrator bemoaned the fact that the union doesn’t seem to recognize this, and it demands that seniority alone be the deciding factor in who can bid successfully for a special needs route. In this district, the union was the barrier to choosing the right person for the job. In another district, the board of education’s policies – or your own – may have created the unintended consequence of limiting the pool of drivers for this critical work without regard to true qualifications.

As with so many areas, the “fix” is likely to be related to your efforts to educate necessary people. I wonder what would happen if union representatives or board members accompanied you on several real special needs routes. Perhaps they would begin to understand the unique challenges that ride along on these routes. Show them “The Road to Compliance for Special Needs Drivers.” Expose them to the wide variety of equipment that travels along with special needs students. In short, let them know what’s behind your insistence – and you must be insistent about this – that the right people be in the right positions.

Peggy Burns is an attorney and consultant, owner of Education Compliance Group, Inc. and a regular contributor to School Transportation News. She is the developer of four video training programs, “The Road to Compliance for Special Needs Drivers," “Putting the Brakes on Harassment: Training for School Bus Drivers,” “Steering Clear of Liability: Training for School Bus Drivers, and “Confidential Records: Training for School Bus Drivers.” Peggy can be reached at (888) 604-6141 or

1 comment:

  1. The real obstacle here is probably simplicity in determining seniority. Unions normally want seniority to be based on one formula (usually time on the job or in a job class based on date of hire or accumulated hours). Possible solutions to this dilemma may have negative as well as positive side effects. One solution may simply be to allow drivers to opt out (annually or at the time of hiring) of certain kinds of runs or using specific equipment. Another possibility, the creation of a separate driver classification within the realm of School Bus Driver based on training, testing and demonstrated ability. Just a couple of thoughts... And again, there are drawbacks. I am the transportation operations supervisor with a school district and when I was a driver and a dispatcher I was also a union job steward, chapter vice president and conference delegate.


We want this to be an open forum for the hundreds of thousands of people that are involved in transporting special needs students each day. We want to hear what you think, what's going on at your facility and what solutions you've found. But, please, keep it civil. Just like on the bus, we'll have no tolerance for attacks or anything defamatory. We won't write you up, but we'll delete the comments right away. So don't bother. But if you have something to share, this is your place.

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