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October 13, 2011  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Who’s behind the wheel?: optimizing driver background checks

Officials say it is important to conduct both federal and state checks, as well as monitor applicants’ driving records. Pupil transporters discuss their operations’ hiring policies and procedures, which include contacting previous employers, and also share suggestions on ways the industry could protect itself against undesirable candidates who move from state to state.

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Martin Quigley of Virginia's Shenandoah County Public Schools believes that there should be more uniformity for the background check process among states. He suggests that a national standard could be developed by the National Association for Pupil Transportation. 
<p>Martin Quigley of Virginia's Shenandoah County Public Schools believes that there should be more uniformity for the background check process among states. He suggests that a national standard could be developed by the National Association for Pupil Transportation. </p>

"Some student transportation contracts specify and require that it's checked on an annual basis or even more frequently," Richmond says. "Your motor vehicle record is pulled at least annually, but depending on the terms of a contract, it may be pulled every six months, every 90 days, etc."

Should there be more uniformity nationwide?
Just as states have different regulations on how far back employers can go for a background check, they also have different standards and processes for background checks, and different specifications on what will disqualify a school bus driver applicant from obtaining the position. 

Because of this disparity, officials run the risk of potentially hiring someone who could endanger students if that person has moved from state to state. 
Many pupil transportation officials feel that having more uniformity among states for the background check process and bus driver applicant restrictions could help to prevent this.

Quigley, for instance, believes there should be uniformity in all aspects of transporting students in a school bus within the U.S., and Schmutz believes it would be helpful in eliminating instances where an applicant may question why he or she was hired at a previous operation but was not accepted for the current position.

"I like the idea of being uniform since a CDL is essentially a national license," Segal says. "However, I think the uniformity should only be in the requirement to do a background check. Felonies should certainly be considered, but I think states and  school districts should have some flexibility. For instance, some districts may be OK with hiring a driver with one or two points on his or her license."

Jones says he's content with the process for school bus driver background checks in Washington state.

"The thing I'm nervous about in terms of any kind of national standards or national regulations is that they're not likely to have some kind of national standards without having some kind of report verifying that you've met those standards, and they wouldn't give us any money to put toward the effort," he explains.

Kyle Martin, vice president of student transportation consulting company TransPar Group in Lee's Summit, Mo., says it is important for pupil transporters to keep all information related to background checks and the hiring process organized for retention and recall.
<p>Kyle Martin, vice president of student transportation consulting company TransPar Group in Lee's Summit, Mo., says it is important for pupil transporters to keep all information related to background checks and the hiring process organized for retention and recall.</p>

Providing protection when bus drivers move between states
While Hollander feels that having more uniformity among states would make bus driver disqualifications clearer and the background check process more streamlined, she says it would be very difficult to achieve.

She believes that a national clearinghouse that lists information about school bus drivers — specifically, any authoritative action that was taken against them, such as being suspended or terminated — would help to prevent undesirable candidates from obtaining jobs at operations in various states.

"It would involve having a website where you could log in to find out if the driver was ever terminated and why," says Hollander, who oversaw criminal background checks for teacher licensing applicants in Nevada for 15 years.

Hollander feels that a national clearinghouse for school bus drivers would be especially helpful for instances when a driver is fired because of inappropriate actions with a student even though he or she may not have been arrested for it or formally charged.

"We run into school police not being what I would call as vigilant as they should be in such actions. Usually a transportation department has to really force school police to take action and call in the local authorities. I've seen that many times," she says. "So, let's say that a person was never arrested, but was terminated. In a clearinghouse, you would report 'termination for inappropriate conduct' and future employers would have that information through the clearinghouse — you're not going to find it on an FBI report."

Hollander says that establishing a national clearinghouse for school bus drivers is something that she would like to see the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services work on.

Quigley suggests that a national standard could be developed by and agreed upon through the National Association for Pupil Transportation.

"Once a school bus operator finished all training to this national standard, we could pass on this training information and employment data to other transportation directors in other school systems/states," he says. "Local directors could still have their own operational verification checks."  

Pete Japikse, director of pupil transportation at the Ohio Department of Education, says another possible solution that could help provide more protection when drivers move between states would be to consolidate state conviction records with federal conviction records.

"This would allow all employers to run just one federal background check," he says, "to ensure that a driver is suitable for employment."

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