The Kids on the Short Bus


Sometimes when streaming TV I watch Drybar standup comics on Youtube because they keep it clean. These days vulgarity on stage seems to be the standard for humor, so Drybar is a welcome change. I’m no angel, but we used to keep our profanity more private. I’m old fashioned.

So anyway, recently a Drybar comic used a laugh line referring to “the kids on the short bus,” a cheap shot for an easy audience laugh because everyone knew in a heartbeat he was referring to what used to be called “retarted” kids decades ago. More accurate now is learning disabled or learning challenged or learning differences, all I think still fitting within the broad framework of “special needs.”

I didn’t like his joke, not because my daughter rode the short bus, but because neither the comic nor the audience that laughed really knew what that means. I’m not offended, I don’t play that game, and I would never argue such jokes should be off limits.

But all of us should understand a few things about the kids on the short bus, and what our Fayette County School system does to help them.

When a child has chronic difficulties in the classroom, evaluations are made to see whether “special needs accommodations” might help. That process involves teachers, psychological evaluation and a variety of testing beyond my ability to describe.

In the end, if there seems to be a reasonable way to give the kid a better chance of succeeding, a special team develops an IEP — Individual Education Program — tailored to the needs of that particular student. The IEP defines with specificity what accommodations that student needs.

For example a special needs trained teacher might need to explain a tricky assignment to help them understand; a teacher might be asked to read test questions out loud; a student might be allowed extra time to complete an exam, just to name a few. The IEP, defining accommodations needed by that student, is a means of authorizing spending extra resources to help them succeed.

These kids still have to complete the required curriculum to earn their high school diploma, but there are teachers trained in special needs to help them along the way.

In some “core” classes like physical science, earth science, history, civics and others the special needs kids are mixed with the student body while special needs teacher “assistants” are with them to help. They circulate among kids with learning problems to help them understand their assignments or even take them to a separate classroom to take an exam that may need reading test questions out loud, etc. But the special needs kids have to complete the same material and pass the same tests as the student body.

In our family’s case, part of my child’s IEP was transportation on the short bus. Even though we lived in the J.C. Booth Middle School district, the bus picked her up at our driveway, drove her to Whitewater Middle School where they had the special needs resources, and dropped her off after school at our driveway, a measure to keep the kids safe.

We lived in the McIntosh High School district, but the short bus took my kid from our driveway to and from Sandy Creek High School because that’s where the special needs resources were.

When my daughter had an episode of her illness at school, I dealt with the school nurse to determine whether I needed to bring her home or whether she could return to class. When she had an episode on the bus, the drill was for the bus driver to pull over, call 911, have an ambulance and police escort come, measure her vitals, with a bias to take her to the hospital ER, a waste of time and expense.

The emergency crews were always supportive when I arrived quickly after the bus driver called me and I elected to take her home. The bus driver and I struck a bargain that if she had an episode and he pulled over and called me, I would be there in 10 minutes so he didn’t have to call the emergency crews.

My daughter had the good fortune of a retired Dad, me, and the busy part of my day started when the short bus arrived about 4:10 p.m. My girl was already drained from a day of thinking beyond her comfort zone. She had a quick snack and then reluctantly settled into an evening of homework assignments and test prep with the help of Dad, she at my desk, me in my nearby easy chair. It was rarely easy for her.

The technology of projecting either her school-issued Chromebook or my PC onto my office big screen TV helped a lot so we both had the convenience of looking at the same material we were studying; that saved time. The school system automation of student assignment links, etc., with parental access helped a lot as well.

However much help the kids on the short bus received, they had to work twice as hard to comprehend the material, remember the details of multiple subjects, and pass the exams same as everyone else. If the expectation was an hour on homework, my kid might take two or even three.

Finally, school work done — or quit for the day — she had dinner and an exhausted girl finally relaxed, maybe a little TV before she crashed for sleep.

There is something beyond academics you shouldn’t miss.

Kids on the short bus were going through the social minefield of high school just like everyone else, with the same desperate desire to be accepted, have a circle of friends and share the excitement of getting their driver’s license. Well, mostly that didn’t happen.

Kids can be cruel. Being left out is disappointing when kids throughout the school are finding their way socially. The kids on the short bus were looking and hoping for friends every day as well, but often went home lonely. They struggled harder at home to get their work done, and maybe the next morning didn’t look forward to school, where they expected to walk the halls alone again, left behind.

We did the work, my kid and I. She had to work twice as hard as the general student body, but she crossed the finish line, wore the gown and threw the cap into the air after earning her coveted high school diploma. Thank you, Fayette County Schools and all involved.

Going back to the comic on the stage. Maybe I’m naive, but I think there’s a good chance if the people in the audience knew these things when the comic went for the easy laugh making fun of the kids on the short bus, maybe that joke would have fallen flat because it isn’t funny. And I would still defend his right to tell his jokes without ever playing the “offended” card.

[Terry Garlock writes occasional columns for The Citizen.]


  1. When I was in my 20’s and the possessor of a Bachelor of Social Work degree, I was hired as the first male director of a group home for mentally retarded (the common term at the time) adult women. the rest of the staff: the developmental technicians, the social worker, and the house mother, were all women as well. I was a bit nervous having little experience with such ladies. I had worked for the State of Tennessee in Child Protective Services for three years but this was new for me. The short story is that I learned so much from and about these women. They were an inspiration to me as were those who worked with them. The group home won the Best ARC Group Home in the State of Tennessee that year. It was customary for the director of said home to travel to Nashville and receive the award. I took the house mother, the social worker, and one of the residents with me and, when the award was announced, I sent them to the platform to receive it while I remained at the table applauding with all the rest of the crowd. That employment experience totally changed how I viewed and felt about such precious persons. It wasn’t the end of my learning and admiration but it was a wonderful beginning. Bravo Terry! -David Epps-

  2. I congratulate Mr. Garlock on two fronts. Most importantly, his dedication to his daughter’s educational needs and daily participation to assist her and ensure her success are laudatory. She is a very fortunate young lady to have such a caring and motivated parent.

    I also congratulate Mr. Garlock for refusing to be a victim by being offended by some other person’s poor taste and judgement. How refreshing! However, this totally disqualifies him from ever running for President.