Wash. Officials Revise School Bus Safety Rules

February 28, 2007

Washington state officials are trying to find new ways to ensure that school bus drivers are properly licensed, following an investigation that showed six around the state were working with suspended licenses.

Last week, Terry Bergeson, the superintendent of public instruction, issued an emergency revision of state rules to require school districts to do their own driving record checks, instead of accepting records supplied by the drivers themselves, as was allowed previously.

The next step is to find a way for the Department of Licensing to contact the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction automatically when a bus driver’s license is suspended, said Allan Jones, OSPI’s director of pupil transportation.

Jones said it wasn’t easy — or cheap — to get the agencies’ computer systems “to talk to each other.”

Prompted by an investigation by KOMO-TV of Seattle, the state recently reviewed the driving records of more than 10,000 Washington public school bus drivers.

OSPI spokesman Thomas Shapley said Monday that he did not immediately have details on why the six had suspended licenses, but said they were not serious moving violations: “These were not DUIs. They were not vehicular homicide or vehicular assault.”

But one driver, Marvis Bailey, presented a fake, clean driving record to Curtis Transportation, a contractor for the Seattle School District, the KOMO report said. In reality, he had a suspended license and five speeding tickets in less than three years. He denied to KOMO that his driving record was a fake; the DOL said otherwise.

State law requires school districts to check their bus drivers’ records once a year. If the Seattle School District obtained driving records directly from the DOL — instead of from the driver — it would have learned about Bailey’s record more quickly, Shapley said.

Bailey is no longer a Washington state bus driver, but most of the six are back on the job after getting their licenses reinstated, he said.

Jones said it’s important for the DOL to notify districts immediately when a driver’s license is suspended because otherwise, they won’t learn about it until they conduct their annual checks, typically in September. Public school districts also must conduct criminal background checks of the drivers.

Jones said the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is also hoping to find a way to begin checking the driving records of private-school drivers.

Private-school bus drivers are required by the state to have a Department of Licensing endorsement, while the school or private transportation company decides whether to conduct background checks or impose other requirements.

Jones, a former school bus driver, emphasized that riding the bus remains the safest way for children to get to school.

“People in the offices and driving the buses really care about people and kids and really want to do the right thing,” he said.

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