Despite pointing out several changes designed to improve safety, the president of the West Virginia Association for Pupil Transportation (WVAPT) said the state’s revised school bus policy doesn’t do enough to ensure proper oversight of drivers.
On Jan. 10, the West Virginia Board of Education revised its policy, “School Bus Transportation Regulations, Procedures, and Specifications for the Design and Equipment of School Buses,” which addresses safer requirements for transporting students who have special needs and includes the school bus specifications into the regulations policy.
The changes go into effect on Feb. 10.
While WVAPT president Peggy Stone said she wasn’t involved during the initial planning committee stage, the WVAPT did submit comments for review. She added the organization came together and discussed what revisions it would like to see.
Stone, who is also the supervisor of transportation for Kanawha County Schools, said one of the suggestions the WVAPT made that was not included in the revised policy was to adopt the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendation that was issued last June, that all states require annual physical performance tests for school bus drivers.
The NTSB recommended all new applicants for school bus drivers nationwide to pass physical fitness tests upon hire, and then again annually, as well as after any new medical condition is diagnosed. The recommendation came in response to the fatal 2017 Oakland, Iowa school bus fire, in which the school bus driver and a student passenger were killed.
The NTSB ruled school bus driver, Donnie Hendricks, 74, was physically unfit for duty due to a chronic back condition. It was reported the 16-year-old student passenger, Megan Klindt, was attempting to help Hendricks out of his seat when heat and fumes overcame them both.
Despite public comments seeking requirements for seatbelts on school buses, the revised policy also did not include a requirement for the safety restraints. When asked about the inclusion of three-point seatbelts in the policy, Stone said, “When it’s federally mandated, we’ll do it.”
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Meanwhile, school bus specifications were included with the regulations and procedures for the first time, a move that was lauded by WVAPT. In the past, Stone explained that the state had two different documents, one for policy and one for specifications.
Stone said the association was also pleased to see that any transportation aide that rides a school bus is now required to have six hours of initial training of students with special health care needs. The training consists of proper lift restraints, emergency equipment, procedures, and loading and unloading of the students with special needs.
“It can’t be we need an aide, so we’re going to pull one from the classroom [anymore],” explained Stone, who is speaking at the TSD Conference in March. “I was glad they put that in there.”
Another change required wheelchair restraints to be compliant with the WC19 standard, which establishes the wheelchair as a vehicle seating system when the occupant is unable to transfer to the school bus seat.
Stone said the state policy is updated every several years. The last update was in 2018 and prior to that she recalled a revision in 2013 with very few changes. Before the 2013 update, the policy hadn’t been revised since 2008.