The first of potentially five School Bus Working Group meetings called for by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine following last month’s fatal student ejection focused on school bus driver training and the school bus driver shortage rather than seatbelts.
Andy Wilson, director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, is the group’s chair. He outlined the meeting cadence on Monday, stating that the group will meet over the next three months. Two meetings are scheduled for September, two for October, and one in November. If needed, another meeting will take place in December.
Wilson noted that while the 14-person group won’t be able to make recommendations on everything discussed — though recommendations are expected to be submitted to DeWin by the end of the year — the group will try to move the needle and ensure increased safety for school children while riding the school bus.
Conversations will eventually turn to seatbelts on school buses, but Wilson commenced Monday’s meeting by noting that the death of 11-year-old Aidan Clark on Aug. 22 was the first on-board school bus fatality in Ohio since 2010. He added that less than 1 percent of traffic crashes in the state involve a school bus, and he observed that motorists who hit school buses, often because they are impaired in some way, die more frequently.
The following are the members of the working group, in addition to Wilson.
Northeast Region Director,
Ohio Association of Pupil Transportation
Director of Transportation, West Geauga Schools
Vice President, Benton Carroll Salem School Board
Senior Executive Director,
Center for Advancing Professional Supports
Ohio Department of Education
President, Ohio Insurance Institute
Director, Ohio Department of Insurance
Director of Government Relations
Buckeye Association of School Administrators
Col. Charles Jones
Superintendent, Ohio State Highway Patrol
Director, Ohio Department of Transportation
Assistant Policy Director,
Office of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine
School Bus Driver, South Euclid Lyndhurst School District
President, Ohio School Bus Mechanics Association
Superintendent of Public Instruction,
Ohio Department of Education
Jingzhen Yang, MPH, PhD
Principal Investigator, Center for Injury Research & Policy
Abigail Wexner Research Institute, Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Gov. DeWine also attended Monday’s meeting. He initiated the working group following Clark’s death, after he was ejected and killed during a school bus rollover crash. During the first meeting, Wilson said the group needed to start getting familiar with school buses and their requirements.
Related: Ohio School Bus Fatality Prompts Latest Legislation Pushing Seatbelt Requirement
Related: Ohio School Bus Safety Working Group to Investigate Seatbelts Following Fatality
Related: NAPT Asks Feds for Clarification on Benefits of School Bus Lap/Shoulder Seatbelts
The members spent the majority of the meeting touring three school buses that were provided by the OEMS for working group members to board and ask questions about. Presentations followed by Everidge-Frey, who gave a background on yellow school bus data and training requirements for school bus drivers.
A representative with the Ohio DMV noted that 54,326 individuals in the state have a current commercial driver’s license with a school bus endorsement and that last year about 2,000 individuals tested for and received their school bus CDL. Working group members asked if that number has declined over the years. The DMV representative said that the average number of applicants testing and receiving their school bus CDL each year is about 2,000.
The group continued to discuss the school bus driver shortage, with all in the room agreeing it is one of the most significant challenges facing school districts today. Coniglio attributed the challenges to hiring, one being a lack of eight-hour, full-time shifts for drivers and resulting benefits, increased administrative requirements from the new federal Entry Level Driver Training regulation, and the fact that some districts are not able to pay driver applicants while they train.
Related: Feds Remind ESSER Funds Can Combat School Bus Driver Shortage
Related: New Yorkers Warned of Illegal School Bus Passing, Delays as Schools Start
Related: Kentucky School District Cancels Class Amid School Bus Challenges
Russell agreed, adding that at one point drivers were able to get unemployment benefits during the summer. But those are no longer an option for school district employees.
One idea she shared to increase safety was for school bus drivers to hold an annual in-service for parents and students at the beginning of each school year, to teach safe loading and unloading procedures. She noted that parents have little if any knowledge of bus stop etiquette, road crossing procedures and general safety that student transportation employees teach students.
The next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 25. Kristin Poland, deputy director of the Office of Highway Safety at the National Transportation Safety Board, will present to the group findings from fatal school bus crash investigations and the safety role seatbelts could have played.
All meetings are live-streamed on YouTube.