Sixteen new Tennessee state laws took effect on Jan. 1, including a bill that established more stringent requirements for school bus drivers and supervisors.
House Bill 322 is in response to the deadly Chattanooga school bus crash of Nov. 21, 2016, in which six elementary-age students were killed. The driver, Johnthony Walker, was 24, had possessed a CDL for about seven months prior, and was speeding at the time of the crash. His supervisors reportedly did not properly address previous complaints relating to his unsafe driving. Walker faces 34 charges and goes on trial Feb. 27.
The bill requires that anyone wanting to become a school bus driver in the state must be at least 25 and must have at least five “consecutive years of unrestricted driving experience.” Supervisors must also be “fully satisfied as to the applicant’s good character, competency, and fitness to be so employed.”
Additionally, new school bus drivers must complete a training course before transporting any students. The course must be based on standards established by the state departments of education and safety and cover topics including, “student management, distracted driving, school and district policy, driving techniques, evacuations, loading and unloading, mirror usage, and state and federal law regarding the use and driving of a school bus.”
The bill also requires that any school district or charter school that provides or contracts for student transportation services appoint a transportation supervisor who will be “responsible for the monitoring and oversight of transportation services for the district or school.”
That supervisor is to complete a training program developed by the state departments of safety and education, and participate in a four-hour training every year thereafter. The names of the supervisors must be submitted to the Tennessee DOE by Feb. 15.
Furthermore, the bill requires that “every local board of education and charter school governing body shall adopt a transportation policy relative to the safe transport of students.” Procedures must be developed for students, parents, school staff and community members to report concerns about school bus safety. A phone number for reporting complaints must be added to the back bumper of every school bus serving the district.
When a complaint comes in, the transportation supervisor must begin an investigation within 24 hours. The director of schools must receive a preliminary report within 48 hours and a written report including the findings and any action taken within 60 school days.
Procedures must also be established for collecting and maintaining records relating to bus maintenance and inspections, driver credentials, driver training records, complaints and any investigations of complaints. These must be collected by each district or charter school, regardless of whether it is the district or a contractor that provides the school bus services.
The state Department of Education & Department of Safety are required by the bill to develop the transportation supervisor training program, establish a system for monitoring district and school compliance with state laws on school buses, and prepare and distribute best practices on managing student transportation.