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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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Pete Meslin, transportation director at Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Costa Mesa, Calif., maintains good relations with the California Highway Patrol, which transfers driving records when a bus driver switches districts.
<p>Pete Meslin, transportation director at Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Costa Mesa, Calif., maintains good relations with the California Highway Patrol, which transfers driving records when a bus driver switches districts.</p>
States' background check standards and procedures 

As can be expected, states have different standards and procedures for bus driver background checks, and different specifications on what will disqualify an applicant from obtaining the position. Here are some specifics:

Ohio. State pupil transportation director Pete Japikse says that Ohio's process for school bus driver background checks involves three activities:

  1. Pre-employment state and federal background checks are performed. A list of convictions - which includes murder, weapons and drugs crimes, and violent offenses - must be checked, and anyone with one of these convictions is not eligible to work with students in Ohio. 
  2. A new federal background check is performed every six years once the driver is employed.
  3. All drivers are checked nightly against the arrest and criminal activity records of the state's Bureau of Criminal Identification. This step was added in 2008.

"Drivers arrested for any of the identified crimes are immediately disqualified from operating a school transportation vehicle during the pendency of the charges," Japikse explains. 

Although it is not considered part of the background check process, all school bus drivers' driving records are required to be checked at least twice per school year. They can have no more than six points on their records, no more than two serious violations in 24 months, no railroad track violations in the last 12 months and no DUI offenses in the last six years. 

Utah. Last year, the state Board of Education approved new standards to require all new school bus drivers to undergo FBI background checks and submit fingerprints to the state's Bureau of Criminal Identification. Additional background checks are required every five years, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The new standards also require school districts to review bus drivers' personal driving records at least twice a year (previously, they only had to check them once a year).

Launi Schmutz of Washington County School District says that with the exception of performing the additional background checks every five years, her operation adhered to these regulations before they went into effect last year. Her operation will now perform the additional background checks every five years, and she believes it will help in ensuring that the most well qualified people are employed at her operation.

Washington. In addition to obtaining a background check from the FBI and the Washington State Patrol prior to hiring a school bus driver applicant, districts are required to get a copy of employees' driving records annually.

State director Allan Jones says that Washington's database of authorized school bus drivers is linked with the state Department of Licensing's driving record database. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is notified whenever any action is taken on a school bus driver's driving record, and OSPI can then notify the school district in the event that the driver may not have been forthcoming about the incident.

Several years ago, the state changed its CDL disqualifying conditions regarding driving over the speed limit, whether it's in a school bus or the driver's personal vehicle.

"It had been 11 mph or over, and we changed it to 10 mph or over," Jones says. "We didn't feel it was appropriate for people to have a lot of speeding tickets on their abstract but it wasn't disqualifying them because none of them were at 11 mph or over - they were all at 10 mph over the speed limit."


Pennsylvania DOT expands access to driving records
Following a fatal accident involving school bus driver Frederick Robert Poust III in February 2010, Pennsylvania Rep. Josh Shapiro sent a letter to then Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Allen D. Biehler calling on the agency to make all accident information available to school districts prior to hiring school bus drivers. The DOT amended its policy to expand accident information contained on a driver's record.

The severity of the accident is included on all driver records, regardless of the type of license the individual holds. School districts receive the entire driver history at no cost, and school bus contractors have the option of paying $5 per record or an annual fee of $200 for unlimited access.

Selina Pittenger, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Bus Association (PSBA) in Camp Hill, says that these changes took effect in October 2010.

In addition to a review of their driving record, Pennsylvania school bus driver applicants must undergo a criminal background check by the Pennsylvania State Police, a state Department of Public Welfare child abuse clearance, and fingerprinting and a criminal background check by the FBI prior to employment.

Pittenger says that the PSBA is meeting with the state's current administration to discuss streamlining the background check process. 

"Right now, each request goes through a different state department," she explains. "Most requests are processed quickly, with results within a few days. The longest time that a report takes is the child abuse clearance, which is about two to three weeks."

Under section 111 of the Pennsylvania School Code, which addresses background check requirements for school employees, an applicant cannot be employed if the criminal history record indicates that the applicant has been convicted of certain offenses — including aggravated assault, kidnapping, statutory rape and endangering the welfare of children — within five years immediately preceding the date of the report.

Pittenger notes that school districts have the authority to be stricter than the state's statute.


New York toughens restrictions on bus driver applicants

In August, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law legislation to expand the list of convictions that would either permanently disqualify a bus driver applicant or disqualify the candidate for five years.

Under the new law, which will take effect early next year, crimes for which a conviction would ban a person from becoming a school bus driver include:

 

aggravated manslaughter in the first or second degree

aggravated sexual abuse in the second, third and fourth degree

sexual abuse in the first degree

course of sexual conduct against a child in the first or second degree

facilitating a sex offense with a controlled substance

predatory sexual assault

sex trafficking

The law also changes from a temporary five-year prohibition to a permanent prohibition vehicular manslaughter in the first degree, aggravated vehicular homicide and promoting prostitution in the first, second or third degree.

Moreover, added to the list of crimes that would result in a five-year prohibition are forcible touching and criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance.

"This legislation is an important step in better protecting children," said Sen. John Bonacic when the bill was signed. "By making sure those who are convicted of a variety of sex crimes, including crimes against children, are unable to pass the required background check and become school bus drivers, we will make New York safer for all children. I appreciate Gov. Cuomo's signing this legislation into law. I also want to single out and applaud the Onteora School District's transportation director, David Moraca, for bringing the need for this legislation to my attention."

Moraca wrote to the editor of local newspaper the Daily Freeman, pointing out that the penal code violations in Section 509 (cc), regarding bus driver disqualifications, had not been updated since 1986. Bonacic said that the letter by Moraca prompted legislation to update the law.

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