Bus Safety and Training Gain Traction on State Boards

By Joseph Hedger

In September 2018, the U.S. Congress introduced House Bill 6773, which directs the secretary of transportation to issue rules on inclusion of three-point safety seat belts in school buses. While students are nearly 70 times more likely to get to school safely when traveling by school bus than by car, rising costs for transportation per pupil and concerns over student safety prodded many state boards of education to reevaluate school transportation in 2018. Most state board actions focused on ensuring transportation staff are adequately prepared to keep students safe.

Virginia’s Senate Bill 299 required the state board of education to establish a training program on autism spectrum disorders for school bus personnel. In September, the state board approved the Virginia Commonwealth University Autism Center for Excellence’s online training module, “Safety for All: Autism Training for Transportation Staff,” which ensures drivers meet the training requirement.

In July, the Maryland State Board of Education published proposed and revised amendments to Code of Maryland Regulations 13A.06.07 on student transportation. Originally put before the board in June, these amendments redefine terms, and they clarify when districts ought to submit a bus driver or trainee’s name to the state’s department of education for inclusion in the disqualified driver database. The revisions remove second-degree assault discovered during prescreening as an automatic disqualification.

The South Carolina state board in December proposed amending regulations on operating public pupil transportation services to give districts an option for certifying drivers to operate certain full-functional school buses that do not require a commercial driver’s license.

In November, the Ohio board recommended approval of comprehensive amendments to Ohio Administrative Code 3301-83-19, which included substantive changes to improve bus driver training and qualifications. For example, school bus drivers must demonstrate competency in environmental compliance issues, fatigue and wellness, student management, and school bus security.

In Ohio and Oregon, state boards worked out individualized plans for districts offering transportation services. If an Ohio district deems the transportation of certain students impractical, they may offer parents or guardians payment in lieu of providing transportation to school. Oregon approved two supplemental plans for the transportation of students who live less than a mile and a half from a school and require transportation for health or safety reasons including special education.

The Hawaii State Board of Education posted proposed draft amendments to Hawaii Administrative Rule, Chapter 8-27, for public hearing in November. While Hawaii’s free bus fare eligibility criterion previously applied to those receiving free school lunch, the state’s education department expanded the Federal Community Eligibility Provision program to include free meals to all students of schools in qualifying low-income areas. This qualified all students at these schools for free bus fare whether or not their families met poverty guidelines under the free lunch program. The Hawaii board’s proposed amendments would base bus fare eligibility on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program guidelines instead.

Joseph Hedger is a NASBE associate editor. He can be reached at joseph.hedger@nasbe.org.