HomeOperationsAspects of a Safe School Bus Ride Discussed at STN EXPO Indy

Aspects of a Safe School Bus Ride Discussed at STN EXPO Indy

INDIANAPOLIS — Everything from documenting policies to training and routing encompasses a safe school bus ride for students, panelists at STN EXPO Indianapolis said on Saturday.

Prior to the panel discussion, industry veteran and training consultant Dick Fischer discussed the essential importance commercial driver’s license manual on driver training. Fischer noted that while the manual covers all topics that should be taught, it hasn’t been updated since it was published in 1986, and there’s additional information supervisors should be teaching drivers.

This includes documentation. For example, Fischer said trainees should be filling out their training paperwork in their handwriting so that the supervisor can’t be accused of falsifying the record. He noted that when setting the classroom hours, it should be the same for every new trainee, whereas behind-the-wheel training can fluctuate based on driver needs.

Fischer noted that school district policies should be written down, including information on what would count as a fire-able offense.

During the following session, “Making the School Bus Ride as Safe as Possible” moderated by Fischer, Kristi Harztel, driver trainer and dispatcher at Campbell County Schools in Kentucky, and Michael LaRocco, director of school transportation for the Indiana Department of Education, expanded on what is happening in their states.

Hartzel noted that student behavior is one of the biggest deterrents to becoming a school bus driver and is contributing to the driver shortage. LaRocco cited a School Transportation News survey that found that for the first time student behavior is above pay in terms of what’s driving the shortage.

Fischer noted that the school bus driver sets the tone for their students and should be taught how to do that in driver training. Drivers shouldn’t show up to work with pre-convinced judgments toward students.

Another aspect of driving training, LaRocco explained, is the importance of reiterating checking the bus for students left behind. He noted that in 2009, Indiana passed a law that every school bus driver has to check the bus at the completion of the trip, and if the driver steps off the bus and leaves a passenger, they have violated the law. He noted that the consequence is that the incident has to be reported to his office within five days, and the DOE has the power to revote a driver certification from the state (not CDL). LaRocco said after the first offense, which requires re-training of that individual, he will remove driver certifications.

He said he expected the law to result in a handful of drivers being reported. However, the DOE sees on average 21 incidents a year across the state.

LaRocco added that another law recently passed was in response to three Rochester, Indiana siblings who were hit and killed by an illegally passing vehicle while attempting to board their school bus in the morning. He noted that while he would like to see a law requiring only right-hand side stops, it’s expensive and would not fully prevent illegal passing, as drivers still pass on the right-hand side.

Editor’s Note: Indiana SB2 was passed in 2019 and requires school districts to minimize bus stops that make children cross highways in high-speed areas.

Fischer asked, “If you can do it after the accident, why can’t you do it before the accident?” in reference to picking students up at their door, changing the stop, etc.

He noted that following fatal crashes in pupil transportation, solutions are created after the fact.

He advised district staff members to not be afraid to speak with their supervisors about safety issues they encounter on the route. “I have to rely on my staff’s expertise,” he said, speaking for leaders. “I have to trust you. … No matter your title, you’re representing the school district.”

LaRocco agreed, noting that if a supervisor won’t put an answer in writing, it tells you all you need to know about working there.

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When training drivers, especially during a driver shortage, attendees and panelists discussed the pressures of getting bodies behind the wheel. Hartzel said going into this next school year, Campbell County is two drivers short. She noted that each summer, the district holds an eight-hour, in-service training, as a refresher course.

While she expressed that she doesn’t want to “scare her drivers,” she reiterates to trainees while conducting training that they will be held responsible if and when they’re being neglectful, such as using their cell phone on their bus or driving while intoxicated.

“I want them to realize that these are children — precious cargo — and they’re going to be held responsible,” she said. “I’d rather drive those routes, than hand the keys to someone who’s not ready.”

She was referencing either new trainees or someone who showed up to work not in the right head space to transport students, she added.

LaRocco reminded attendees that they should be empowered to say, “No, this person is not the right person for the job.”

He noted that it’s normally not due to the person’s ability to drive a school bus, but all of the additional duties that go along with transporting children.

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