RENO, Nev. — After a two-year, COVID-19-induced hiatus, the National School Bus Inspection Training Program returned to STN EXPO Reno. And attendees raved about it.
Developed by school bus maintenance and inspection expert Marshall Casey, who retired in 2012 as the director of fleet maintenance at the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE), the training allows attendees to be fully trained on how to conduct regular vehicle inspections above and beyond what is required by state or federal departments of transportation.
The training, which consisted of eight hours of classroom learning on Saturday, is derived from the best practices used in South Carolina, the only state that owns and maintains virtually all school buses operated by local county school districts. This year’s class was taught by Bobby Williams, assistant director of fleet services for Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Texas, and first-time presenters Luke Patrick, director of maintenance for the South Carolina Department of Education, and Jerry Wayne Southard, engineering associate with the SCDE.
Attendees learned via a PowerPoint presentation and inspection manual how to discover more defects prior to failure. In addition to classroom instruction, the training featured a written exam at the end. If passed, attendees were given a certificate of completion.
Since it was last taught in 2019, Patrick said the training was updated to include information about electric and propane vehicles as well as collision mitigation technology. In terms of COVID-19, the training also touched on installing hand sanitizing stations and what chemicals to use when cleaning the bus.
“Everybody is involved with the class and talking about the difference between their state specs,” Patrick said of attendee interaction. Southard added that everyone in attendance was very engaged and positive throughout.
Robb Hubbard, a mechanic for Exeter Unified School District in California, is going on eight months in his current position. He said he wanted to attend the class to make sure he’s performing inspections correctly and to network with peers.
The class is recommended to be taken every five years. First-time inspection class attendees Anthony Valiente, the director of operations for Ground Transport Inc. in Hawaii, and Mark Agmata, the company’s fleet maintenance manager, said the training helped fine-tune the questions on the federal side and how different states have their own ruling as well.
“Inspection wise, we want to inspect everything the right way,” Agmata said of action items to take away from the class. “We want to pass [the information] on to our mechanics.”
Valiente said one way to evolve the class even more would be to include an outside element, where attendees are able to physically look at a school bus and have a hands-on component. He noted that it would be helpful to provide some defects on the bus that attendees need to identify.
“Having a hands-on gives a better perspective into what you’re actually doing,” Valiente said, adding that he’s been an STN EXPO attendee since 2016.
His wish may soon be answered, as Williams noted that is precisely where the class is headed. “We are working to implement a portion of hands-on in the future,” Williams said, adding that there are ideas moving forward on how to expand upon the class. “It may put a better perspective on whoever is inspecting the vehicle, and to understand how to build their procedure and sequence of inspecting the bus.”
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Meanwhile, Cassie Smith, the shop mechanic assistant and a bus driver for Cascade Union School District in California, said the inspection class was the main reason why she attended STN EXPO, and she was not disappointed.
“I liked it, I thought it was pretty good,” Smith said of the material, adding that the instructors were very easy to approach.
She noted she wanted to attend to learn more about what the presenters look for when doing an inspection.
“I am an assistant, so to know exactly what [the lead mechanic] is looking for and the pictures in the slide show, that was all great,” Smith said. “To be able to see — I am always the one that is in bus and the lead mechanic is always down there looking at the stuff. So, I don’t get to see it. So, that was very good for me too.”