Back to Main
In-Service Safety Series
In-Service Safety Series
Back   Next


V. Loading and Unloading

  1. We have talked about the equipment used by a student with special needs
  2. In particular we have talked about wheelchairs
  3. Now we need to talk about loading and unloading
    1. We will review the proper loading and unloading process
      1. What to do and who should do it
    2. We will also review how to correctly use and operate a wheelchair lift and how to use the 7-point wheelchair/occupant securement system
    3. Finally, we will talk about the seating plan for your bus and what should be included in it
  4. Loading and unloading students with special needs requires more than one person
  5. Who are the people who might be involved in the process?
    • School bus driver/attendant
    • Parent or caregiver
    • Teacher
  6. Let's talk first about who is responsible for what
    1. The school bus driver
      1. The school bus driver is the person who
        1. Loads the student onto the school bus at the site, both pick up and school
        2. At the destination, unloads the student
      2. Make sure that you know exactly who should receive the student in both places
    2. Parent or caregiver
      1. Before school, the parent or caregiver makes sure that the student is at the curb on time with or in the proper equipment
      2. The parent or caregiver supervises the student until the school bus arrives
      3. After school, the parent or caregiver meets the student at the curb on time
      4. A parent or caregiver may want to help with loading
        1. It is the ultimate responsibility of the school bus driver to check and make sure the wheelchair and the student are properly secured before moving the school bus
    3. Teacher
      1. The teacher's responsibilities are similar to those of the parent or caregiver
        1. Meet the student upon arrival at school
        2. Have the student at the pick-up site on time and supervise the student until the school bus arrives
    4. Bus attendant
      1. Sometimes another adult assists the school bus driver
        1. These people may be called aides or attendants or monitors
      2. The attendant may be assigned to help all students or one particular student
      3. While on the bus, the attendant is usually under the authority of the school bus driver
      4. The attendants responsibilities should be noted in local policy
    5. Review local policy and procedures about who is responsible for what during the loading and unloading process
  7. The loading and unloading process for walkers
    1. Stand behind the student who is getting onto the bus
    2. Stand in front of the student who is getting off the bus
  8. The loading and unloading process for wheelchairs
    1. There is a generally a comprehensive local policy for loading and unloading student with special needs
    2. This policy should lay out guidelines to follow when loading students using specialized equipment
    3. Before we get into the procedure for loading with a wheelchair lift, let's talk about what you should know about wheelchair lifts
  9. Wheelchair lifts
    1. Wheelchair lifts come in several varieties
      1. You need to become familiar with the lift on your school bus and how it works
      2. Remember to follow the manufacturer's instructions for the wheelchair lift on your school bus
        1. If you don't have the instructions, ask for them
    2. Whatever the type, wheelchair lifts have similar components
      1. Platform
      2. Outboard roll stop
      3. Inboard roll stop
      4. Hand rails
      5. Vertical arms
      6. Top and bottom parallel arms
      7. Base plate
      8. Hydraulic pump with manual backup
    3. Safety features
      1. There are several safety features on the wheelchair lift
      2. The outboard roll stop is activated by the up and down buttons
        1. When the up button is pushed, the outboard roll stop rotates to the vertical position before the platform raises
        2. When the down button is pushed, the outboard roll stop does not rotate to the horizontal position until the platform is lowered fully to the ground
      3. The inboard roll stop position is also activated by the up and down buttons
        1. When the down button is pushed, the inboard roll stop rotates to a vertical position
        2. It remains in the vertical position while the wheelchair is loaded or unloaded on the ground
        3. When the up button is pushed, the inboard roll stop rotates to the horizontal position when the platform reaches the vehicle floor level
      4. The bridge plate rotates to the horizontal position when the unfold button is pushed
        1. It rotates to the vertical position when the fold button is pushed
      5. Interlock devices prevent operation of the lift or the school bus when it is not safe
        1. Interlock devices can work in a variety of ways
          1. Locks the school bus transmission in place when the lift is deployed
          2. Doesn't allow the lift to be deployed until the school bus is in PARK and the emergency brake is set
          3. Stalls the school bus engine if the lift is deployed and the emergency brake is released or the transmission is shifted from PARK
      6. Discontinue operation immediately if any of these safety features do not work properly
    4. School bus position
      1. Before using the wheelchair lift, park the vehicle on level ground
        1. Do not park on a slope
      2. Remember that the platform must rest completely on the ground
        1. Choose a place to load without obstacles to interfere with the operation of the lift
        2. Review the operation of the interlock device on your school buses
    5. Who can use a wheelchair lift
      1. Wheelchair lifts are designed to be used by
        1. Anyone using a wheelchair or other mobility aid
        2. Someone sitting in a folding chair
        3. A standee: a person who has difficulty using steps (for example someone using a walker, crutches, braces, a cane)
          1. Due to liability, schools should never allow someone to stand on a lift
          2. Carry in the school bus a loaner wheelchair or a stroller for lift use
      2. Lift attendants should not ride on the platform with the passenger
    6. Emergency situations
      1. If you experience a power or equipment failure and you have a child on the lift, you can operate the lift manually
      2. Review the manufacturer's instructions for manually operating the wheelchair lift on your bus
  10. Procedure for loading with a wheelchair lift
    1. Remember to tell the student what you are going to do before you do it
    2. Open and secure the lift door
    3. Use the hand-held control to activate the unfolding of the platform
    4. Lower the platform until it rests entirely on the ground
    5. Unfold the outboard roll stop
    6. Fasten the wheelchair seat belt around the student
    7. Back the student onto the lift
      1. Always face the student away from the school bus
      2. NOTE: To unload a student with a motorized wheelchair
        1. The student should NOT drive onto the lift unless cleared to do so by the entire IEP team
        2. Disengage the motor and push the chair onto the platform manually
        3. Consult with a parent/caregiver or a therapist about how to secure the chair on the lift
    8. Lock the wheelchair brakes
    9. Turn off the wheelchair power
      1. In some rare cases, the motor must be disengaged to secure the wheelchair
      2. Ask the parent/caregiver or therapist for guidance
    10. Make sure the roll stops are in the completely “up” position
    11. Have the student hold onto the handrails if able
    12. Tell the student to keep arms and legs within the lift area and clear of moving parts
    13. Operate the lift controls
      1. Stand next to the platform at the front corner
      2. Keep one hand on the wheelchair as it is raised and operate the controls with the other hand
    14. When the platform reaches floor level, set down or hang up the controls
    15. Release the wheelchair brakes and push the wheelchair into the bus
    16. Set the wheelchair brakes
    17. Fold the lift into the travel position
    18. Position the student according to the IEP
      1. The IEP should specify whether to transfer the student to a regular forward facing school bus seat
        1. Remember to use proper lifting techniques
      2. Or whether to secure the wheelchair and the student
    19. Review local policy and procedures for the use of wheelchair lifts
  11. REMINDER: Some wheelchairs are not manufactured for transportation purposes
  12. Students with these chairs should be moved into regular school bus seats, whenever possible
  13. Guidelines for securing wheelchairs
    1. Many school buses used to transport students with special needs have a wheelchair securement system
    2. The securement system is a way to tie down or anchor a wheelchair to the school bus
    3. The securement system must be used whenever the school bus is not parked
    4. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 222 has specific requirements for the wheelchair securement and wheelchair occupant restraint system
      1. The wheelchair securement positions must be forward-facing
      2. The anchorages for the wheelchair and occupant restraint and the securement and restraint devices must be of minimum strengths
      3. There must be at least 4 tie-down devices for each wheelchair
      4. There must be lap and shoulder belts for each wheelchair location
    5. Here is what FMVSS 222 requires for a securement system
      1. FMVSS 222 requires 7 points
        1. 4-point securement systems that anchors the wheelchair to the vehicle to meet minimum strength requirements
        2. A 3-point occupant restraint system to attach the occupant to the wheelchair
          1. The shoulder belt must be attached to the vehicle
          2. The lap belt can be attached to the wheelchair 4-point anchor system or to the vehicle
          3. Lap belts attached to the wheelchair should meet Federal requirements

            • ANSI/RESNA Wheelchair-19 Standard
        3. Remember that there is a difference between the seat belt (used for occupant restraint) and a postural aid or pelvic belt (used to hold in or to hold erect a student with a particular disability)
      2. FMVSS 222 requires that the wheelchair securement position in a school bus be forward-facing; there are several reasons why this makes sense
        1. The securement system is designed to be used with the wheelchair facing forward and is tested that way
          1. All new school buses manufac-tured with wheelchair securement systems since January 1994 have forward-facing systems
        2. There are several reasons why forward-facing is preferred
          1. Wheelchair securement positions are inherently safer and wheelchairs and the human body are better capable of surviving a frontal crash when facing forward
          2. Sled tests show that side facing wheelchairs are unstable and often collapse
          3. Lap and shoulder belt restraint systems are designed to be most effective in the frontal impact position (most common fatal collisions type for school buses) and wheelchairs are believed to be stronger in frontal loading conditions as opposed to side loading positions
  14. Where to anchor the wheelchair
    1. The securement can be a metal locking unit or a webbing belt system
    2. Cautions
      1. Do not jerry-rig a securement for a wheelchair
      2. Only use an approved 4-point tie-down system
        1. At a minimum, the front straps and back straps should be the same type
      3. Don't interchange systems
        1. Use only one manufacturer's tie- down system for each wheelchair
      4. Never place a wheelchair in front of an emergency exit door even if the wheelchair securement position is provided at that location
  15. Procedure for securing the wheelchair
    1. First, follow the manufacturer's guidelines for that particular wheelchair and for your system
      1. If you don't have the manufacturer's instructions, ask for them
    2. Center the wheelchair with the anchorages on the floor
      1. Leave room for the rear belt to be secured at a 45-degree angle from the floor
    3. Set the wheelchair brakes on both sides; turn off the wheelchair power
    4. Attach the wheelchair straps to the wheelchair at 4 points
      1. Attach the straps along the wall first
      2. Then attach the straps along the aisle
    5. Attach the straps properly
      1. Do not attach the straps to the wheels or any detachable portion of the wheelchair
      2. Don't let the straps bend around any object
        1. They should have a clear path from the floor to the wheelchair frame
      3. Keep the straps away from sharp edges or corners
      4. Do not crisscross or twist the straps
      5. Make sure that the belts are at a 30 to 60-degree angle; a 45-degree angle is the best
      6. Never use the 4-point system without also using the 3-point lap and shoulder belt
    6. Make sure that the wheelchair doesn't have forward or reverse movement
    7. If you can't get the wheelchair attached properly, contact dispatch
    8. Review local policy and procedures on the use of wheelchair securement systems
  16. Procedure for securing the student
    1. Whenever you secure a wheelchair with a student in it, you must also use a 3-point system to secure the student
      1. The wheelchair securement doesn't hold the student in the wheelchair
      2. The occupant restraint system is separate from the wheelchair securement
    2. The 3-point system secures the student's pelvis and torso
    3. The occupant restraint system may be attached in several ways
      1. To the school bus anchorage points
      2. To the wheelchair securement system
    4. Whatever system is used, follow the manufacturer's instructions
    5. General guidelines
      1. Position the lap belt over the pelvic bones, not the abdomen
      2. Position the lap belt inside the arm rests between the side panels and the cushion
      3. Adjust the belt so it is snug
      4. Position the shoulder belt so it does not cross the student's face or neck
      5. Never position the shoulder belt under the student's arm where is would cross the rib cage
      6. Adjust the shoulder belt to achieve firm but comfortable tension
      7. Never twist the belts; the belts should always lie flat against the body
    6. Review local policy and procedures
    7. Are there any questions about securing the wheelchair or the student?
  17. Placement of students
    1. Where you seat the students on your school bus should not be haphazard
    2. You should think about and lay out a seating plan for your school bus
    3. What are some things to consider when developing a seating plan?
      • Your route and the order in which students are loaded and unloaded at home and at school
      • The medical conditions of the students
      • Evacuation
      • Behavior
      • Supervision
      • The age of the student
      • Your ability to observe the student
    4. When considering medical conditions, think about
      1. Students who are medically fragile or vulnerable and who need to sit further front where there is less bounce
      2. Students who are prone to seizures in certain light conditions
      3. Younger students and those in child safety seats who need to sit in the first few seats
      4. Students with respiratory conditions who need to sit away from the lift area and away from rear windows near the exhaust
        1. Changes in temperature also tend to bother these students
      5. Students who may need to sit over wheel wells for additional lower extremity support
    5. When considering evacuation, think about
      1. Which students can evacuate themselves
      2. Which students need help
      3. Which students could help others
      4. Which students are in child safety seats
        1. They should not be in emergency exit rows
        2. They should not be in aisle seats with students who are unrestrained seated in the window seats
    6. Think about which students are compatible and which aren't
    7. Think about who needs supervision either for behavior or for a medical condition
    8. Put your plan in writing
      1. This will be especially helpful for a substitute
    9. Review local policy and procedures about student seating
  18. Safe stopping places
    1. In addition to having a seating plan, you need to have a plan for exactly where to stop the bus to load each student
    2. When developing your loading plan, you need to consider
      1. Where to stop the school bus so the wheelchair lift operates properly
      2. Where to stop so that you can be seen by other traffic
      3. How and when to use the warning systems
        1. School buses have warning systems that are activated and deactivated during the loading and unloading process
        2. These warning systems affect traffic flow
        3. Since it takes longer to load and unload students with special needs, you may have to alter your standard approach to the use of warning systems
        4. Review local policy and procedures about the use of warning systems
      4. Where to stop the bus if the original site is not available
    3. Review local policy and procedures on safe stopping places
  19. Review any other local law, state law, and local policy and procedures on loading and unloading that have not been covered

V.C - Display Slide 21

V.F - Distribute Handout #6,
Loading and Unloading

V.I - Distribute Handout #7,
The Wheelchair Lift

V.J - Return to Handout #6


V. Loading and unloading of specialized equipment needs to be practiced as specialized equipment has become quite complex. After presenting this section, you may want to have participants practice:

  • Correctly using and operating the wheelchair lift
  • Correctly loading and securing a wheelchair using the securement system in your school buses
  • Correctly securing a person using the lap and shoulder belts
  • Securing and/or storing equipment, e.g., lap trays.

    Lift operation should be practiced with and without people on the lift.

V.E. Ask the question and continue to probe until all of the members are listed.

V.F. Distribute Handout #6, Loading and Unloading. Review it with the participants.

V.F.1. In some school districts, there is a monitor who is responsible for loading and unloading.

V.F.2.a. Your policy may stipulate that the transfer of responsibility takes place at another place, e.g., the front door.

V.F.2.d. For instance, the parent might help the student onto the bus or fasten the seat belt or wheelchair positioning belt.

NOTE: A parent/caregiver's responsibilities may be limited or required by local policy.

V.F.3.a. This statement may not be true in your school district.

V.H.1. Occasionally a student with special needs has unique requirements that must addressed during the loading and unloading process. That student should have a separate loading procedure described in his or her IEP. This loading procedure will describe:

  • What the student will do for himself or herself and what the school bus driver needs to help with
  • What specialized equipment will be used during the loading process and when.

V.H.3. Tell participants that you will review how to load and unload students in the next section. This section focuses on the operation of the lift.

V.I. Distribute Handout #7, The Wheelchair Lift. Review it with participants.

V.I.2. Review the diagram and the parts of the lift. If your lift operation differs from that presented in the instruction, review the operation of the lift on your school buses.

V.J.13.a. This protects students who might approach you from behind from running into the lift.

V.J.18.a.1 Refer participants to Handout #8, Emergency Situations, for proper lifting techniques.

V.N.2.b. Remember proper lifting techniques when attaching the straps. Bend at the knees, not at the waist. Refer participants to Handout #8, Emergency Situations, for proper lifting techniques. Some drivers/attendants wear knee pads to be more comfortable when anchoring wheelchairs.

V.N.2.b.1 For example, you must not use a quick release strap AND a ratchet strap on the front, although you could use 2 quick release straps or 2 ratchet straps.

V.R.2.c. Discuss what discretion the school bus driver has in using warning systems. Although their priority must always be the safety of the students, they also have to consider the traffic that might be halted while they unload.

V.R.2.c.3 It takes 5-7 minutes to load a student in a wheelchair, if you are loading a student you load everyday. A substitute or a driver loading a new student will take longer.

Back to Top