Incident results in new bus policies

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — After a 3-year-old girl was accidentally left on a bus for nearly seven hours in August, the Grayson County school system has made changes to its school bus safety procedures.

During the regular school board meeting Nov. 10, Transportation Supervisor Dennis Roop updated the board on the additions, as well as the procedures previously in place.

Additions to the procedures included a checklist to document that the driver has comprehensively checked their bus after every route. This checklist will be required as part of the driver's daily documentation and monthly report.

Roop said the checklist is currently being developed and should be implemented by the end of the month.

This summer, a Grayson driver was reprimanded after a preschooler spent all day on his bus. The driver said the girl didn't get off at her stop and hid from him, even after he drove his bus home.

Additionally, random checks are being conducted of bus videos to ensure that drivers are adhering to policies and procedures.

“I'm looking at videos almost daily,” said Roop. “Anytime I have a free moment I check a video.”

One of the more important changes implemented is that all elementary students county-wide have been assigned to seats in the front of the bus in order to separate them from older students — and hopefully keep them in the drivers' sights.

Along those lines, two aides have been assigned to monitor buses at the high school to provide additional supervision of pre-school students who are transitioning into an elementary site. The aides then accompany the pre-school students to and from the elementary school.

Other actions implemented for the 2008-09 school year include:

• requiring all policies and procedures pertaining to bus safety to be reviewed on a monthly basis. Each policy is reinforced with all staff through faculty meetings and written memos.

• announcing bus procedures over the bus radios periodically in order to provide review for all drivers.

• requiring that each school notify the parent or guardian when their child is absent from school. Additional procedures have been implemented to ensure parents are informed when their child is absent from school to include the Instant Alert System.

• not allowing any children to ride in the back seat of the bus unless the load requires it. This stems from an incident last month in which a bus was rear-ended by a car near Fries.

Roop also updated the board on procedures that were already in place for the school system.

Comprehensive bus driver education and training are provided prior to the opening of school each year. Each driver is trained on bus regulations and safety procedures, as well as school policies and practices.

Roop said components of the bus driver in-service include:

• going over the Code of Virginia updates that address any changes to state law concerning motor vehicles and safety issues

• OSHA training that provides education on blood-borne pathogens, disease control, and the proper cleaning procedures to use in the event of an accident so that students and the driver are both protected

• safety training that includes speed zones, bus stop safety, pre-trip inspections and post-trip inspection.

Roop said a major emphasis is placed on having the drivers conduct a thorough pre-trip inspection and a comprehensive walk-through during the post-trip inspection to identify any safety concerns or students that may be left on the bus.

Also part of the training is rules of bus operation, such as learning the roles and responsibilities required of the driver before, after and during the operation of the bus.

Drivers review regulations and procedures stated in the Driver's Training Manual, along with instruction of any new regulations or procedures.

Roop said examples of the procedures and regulations addressed included managing the bus, enforcing rules, addressing discipline problems, documentation requirements, accident protocol and crisis management and evacuation procedures.

Bus drivers also receive training in special education that addresses students with special needs and medical or behavioral issues a student may have.

The final section covered in the training for drivers is education on a wide range of issues, such as new equipment on buses, fuel treatment, required reports and their due dates — such as bus routes, evacuation drills and time sheets — and any changes that have occurred or are about to occur in the county pertaining to school buses.

Students also receive training at the beginning of the school year, Roop said.

Pre-school and kindergarten students are given safety materials such as coloring books, crayons and pencils pertaining to bus safety.

“These are distributed to the schools at the beginning of each school year,” said Roop. “During the first week of school, teachers provide instruction safety procedures with the students, to involve safety training such as crossing the road, safety zone distances, boarding the bus and behavior on the bus and at the bus stop.”

As for discipline on the bus, Roop said bus rules are posted on the right front bulkhead of each bus.

“These rules, which have been approved by the Grayson County School Board, are to be enforced by the bus driver and adhered to by the student,” said Roop.

Each driver is expected to work with students to resolve any issues that occur on the bus. Minor issues are handled by the driver with a verbal warning.

If needed, the driver will send a written discipline form to the principal, who then notifies the parent if necessary and forwards a copy of the form to the parent, bus driver and transportation department with what action was taken — seat assignment, suspension from the bus and/or in-school suspension.

School Board Member Hobert Bailey questioned where the line was drawn between major and minor issues.

“We are dealing with all different age groups,” Roop said. “What might be minor with elementary... might not be at a higher level. It's at the bus driver's discretion.”

Bailey used an example of a student reaching across the aisle to “punch” another student. “We might just be playing,” he said.

Roop responded that, to him, it would be a big deal and needed to be turned in to the principal — any physical contact should, he said.

Bailey continued to say that it needed to be clear to the bus drivers that there is a big difference between just giving a verbal warning when someone is talking loud versus a discipline report for someone having physical contact.

Roop added that the video and audio equipment on each bus would allow the school system to go back and check on anything if a driver feels like they may have missed something or aren't sure whether something was as serious as it looked.

“That's the good thing about the random checks,” Director of Personnel Chad Newman said. “It's almost on a daily basis and things could be caught that the driver may have missed.”