School chief says drivers' backgrounds are checked

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The assurances come in the wake of a Carroll school bus driver's arrest for driving under the influence in a bus.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — All Carroll County Public School employees go through an extensive checklist before starting work to protect the safety of students, according to schools Superintendent Strader Blankenship.
A June 14 incident recently came to light, in which a substitute bus driver got pulled over by police for driving erratically. He was subsequently charged with driving while intoxicated and reckless driving.
This resulted in questions from the public about background checks for school employees, Blankenship told The Gazette.
Ricky Lee Phillips, who had been working with the schools for a number of years as a bus aide and substitute driver, would have been subject to background checks that apply to new hires.
The schools’ “new employee checklist” requires a worker to share information on various issues including a tuberculin test, a teaching license, college transcripts, a child support form, a Department of Social Services registry form and fingerprinting.
The fingerprints go to the FBI for an arrest records search.
New hires must complete a new employee training and receive information about the school system’s drug-free workplace policy, notice of the sexual harassment policy and a staff and volunteer user agreement form.
Referring to the drug-free workplace policy, Blankenship said, “That, by the way, includes alcohol.”
In addition, bus drivers need to have a commercial driver's license, 40 hours of training and a physical, he said.
Carroll schools also have random quarterly drug and alcohol testing of drivers, as required by the federal government, the superintendent added. “Anybody who gets behind the wheel who is driving kids is on the list.”
A company chooses drivers to test and 10 percent of the fleet has to be tested randomly each quarter. Blankenship said the hospital runs the tests on urine samples.
Any accident worse than a fender bender triggers an alcohol and drug screening test. “One of our staff drives them to the hospital immediately” for testing, he said.
Citizens occasionally call the school system with a concern about drivers.
“If there’s a suspicion, we pull them in and we test them,” Blankenship said.
In the case of Phillips, it’s likely he had been driving for a week of summer school and had been keeping the bus at his home in order to run a summer school route.
No students were on the bus at the time of the incident.
A breathalyzer test given to Phillips yielded a .22 blood alcohol level, significantly over the legal limit of .08 under Virginia law.
“Thank goodness somebody reported him and he was pulled over," Blankenship reacted.
Court documents say that a hearing has been set for Phillips in Carroll General District Court for Sept. 13.