I recently read of two more incidents in which children were left on the bus following a route. One incident led to a lawsuit filed by the parents alleging brain damage of their child; the other resulted in two employees being fired. These incidents that jeopardize the safety of students need not occur.
At the 14th National Congress on School Transportation, I proposed a set of procedures to better ensure students are not left on the bus. Recognizing that it was a national problem, I assumed the leaders of the industry in attendance would embrace a proven set of procedures that have resulted in no students left on the bus. I was wrong! My proposed motion was soundly defeated. It should have been embraced and adopted by every school district across the nation.
A four-step solution
First, transportation supervisors must change the attitude toward this problem. Instead of blaming the drivers, management must take responsibility for ensuring that these potentially tragic events do not occur. This is a transportation department problem and not just a driver problem.
When an incident occurs, does the transportation manager get fired? No! It's the driver who's either fired or disciplined. This is the case even if the district has not implemented procedures that use the "EMPTY" sign placed in the rear window of the school bus. Here is what works for us.
Step one: Make preventing children from being left on the bus a department problem. By making it a department problem, it requires a department solution and not just a driver solution.
Step two: Implement an "EMPTY" sign procedure that requires drivers to place a sign in the rear window of the bus following each trip/route.
Each time the bus comes back to the terminal or is parked following a route, the bus must be checked by the driver and an "EMPTY" sign placed in the rear window. No bus should be on the road with an "EMPTY" sign showing, because it should also be part of the procedure to remove the sign on the pre-trip before the bus leaves the parked position. (It is helpful to print the directions for use right on the back of the "EMPTY" sign.)
Step three: Purchase new buses with a system that causes a beeping sound, honks the horn, flashes the lights, etc. if the driver doesn't go to the back of the bus. Or, use a GPS system that reports drivers who do not check the back of the bus when the bus is parked following the route.
One system is not enough. A duplication of systems is essential for the problem to be eliminated. The system needs to be fail-safe. Even if you use an electronic system or a more sophisticated GPS system, the "EMPTY" sign placed in the rear window procedures should be maintained because it provides supervisors with a visual cue that the bus was checked.
Step four: Check the system. If supervisors fail to check to see if the "EMPTY" signs are in place, record the results daily and discipline drivers who fail to perform the procedures as required, the system will fail. The key to success in preventing these potentially tragic events is for supervisors to regularly (daily) check the system and record the results.
This system will work with a fleet of any size. Prior to implementing the process at our operation, there were more than 10 incidents of children left on the bus each year. Now we have none. If implemented nationwide, this process would prevent tragic incidents affecting the safety of schoolchildren.
I call this process "Goby's Solution." Why not make it yours?
Dale Goby is the executive director of the Office of Student Transportation for Detroit Public Schools. He can be reached at (313) 220-5118 or firstname.lastname@example.org.