News from the World of Pupil Transportation

Posted on September 1, 2002

Fairfax County reflects on 9/11

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Most Virginia transportation operations were not directly affected by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. That was not the case in northern Virginia near the Pentagon. For example, as the planes began to strike, Fairfax County had already delivered students to schools and subsequently had about 4,000 students and 100 buses on a field trip at the International Children's Festival held at Wolf Trap Park. Bus drivers were alerted and quickly returned students from across the county to their respective schools as a safety and security measure. Arlington and Alexandria were finishing delivering students to schools and had their drivers return to their compounds to be on standby in case they were needed. Students were not evacuated or returned home early. This would only have created more gridlock and confusion. They were "sheltered in place" at school. Schools throughout the region were the "safe havens" for anxious students and staff as the events of the day unraveled. Along with the students, bus drivers, attendants, teachers and other school staff were concerned as they had family, friends and neighbors who were potentially endangered and about whom they could get no information. Despite their fear and anxiety, transportation and school staff rose to the need. They managed to focus on the safety of the students in their care. They realized that they had to provide the added measure of compassion and security for the children who were terrified of what they were hearing and seeing all around them. That may not equate to rushing into a burning building to rescue people, but it's a remarkable display of courage, compassion and dedication nonetheless. Some parents came to schools to take their children home. Some parents brought their pre-schoolers to school to wait, so they were not alone, or so that school staff could take charge of the youngsters while a parent went to inquire about a missing spouse. For Arlington County it was more dramatic. They were close enough to witness the smoke and flames of the burning Pentagon building. They also had to deal with the resulting roadblocks and congestion in the immediate area of the Pentagon. Firefighters from across the region responded to assist in fighting the fire and searching for survivors. What you may not know is that school buses and school bus drivers from across the region helped to shuttle relief crews around the clock to and from the Pentagon as well. America remembers that fateful day from many different perspectives. It is not a day we wish to remember for our actions in transportation, but it is a day we must remember in respect to those who gave or lost so much. By Tim Parker, assistant transportation director at Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools.

Choice busing hits snag in Maryland

MONTGOMERY & HOWARD COUNTY, Md. — Plans to meet the No Child Left Behind Act this fall are being held up by new federal regulations that call for parents to be given the option of more than one well-performing school when more than one has been identified. Ahead of the curve in attempts to meet school choice requirements, Montgomery and Howard counties laid the foundation in May for a program that would pair each low-performing school in the district with a high-performing school to which students could transfer. According to the Washington Post, a month after the districts announced their pairing plan, U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige issued a letter "strongly encouraging" districts to "provide several choice options for parents." "These changes come too late for us. And we don't want to be moving kids after school starts. If they say we have to, obviously, we'll comply. But this is frustrating," said Patti Caplan, spokesperson for the Howard County School District. Maryland state officials plan to contact federal officials to determine if more choices must be offered immediately or if the paired-school program can go forward this year while an alternate plan is drawn up for next year.

15-year-old hijacker to be tried as adult

NYE COUNTY, Nev. — After being charged with hijacking a school bus and plotting to blow up his high school, a 15-year-old student from Pahrump, Nev., will be tried as an adult. If convicted, Freddie Blodgett III could face more than 50 years in an adult prison. Blodgett is accused of hijacking the bus with a samurai sword on April 29 and then leading authorities on a high-speed chase before crashing the vehicle near the Nevada-California state line. He is awaiting trial in an adult holding facility.

Question of the Month

Is there still a great deal of ignorance among motorists with regard to proper procedures for stopping for a loading/unloading school bus? How can we better educate the public? Massive ad campaign necessary
Here in New York, the state police have started a campaign with a lot of exposure on television, radio and in print about people wearing seatbelts. It's called "Click it or Ticket." I think we need something like this to educate the public about when they need to stop for a school bus. Locally we need to use the media to get our message across, while enlisting the help of parents, students and everyone in the community. I would like to see school bus drivers involved in more community events such as children's fairs, where we could promote our safety message as often as possible. We are in this occupation for the sake of the children, and it is our mission to keep them safe while they are in our care.
School Bus Driver
Gloversville (N.Y.) Enlarged
School District
Media needs to pitch in
I am a state-certified driver trainer and a certified DMV third-party tester. I post safety messages and slogans every day at my depot and re-evaluate my drivers twice a year to ensure that they are not picking up bad habits. Still, after approaching our local newspaper and radio station, the best I could get them to do was say, "It's that time of year again, watch out for those kids walking and biking to school." They feel like they are doing their civic duty, and that is the last you hear from them until a child is hit crossing the street in front of a school bus.
School Bus Driver/Driver Trainer
Woodburn, Ore. Utilize state, local authorities
Here in Ohio we get a form from the state highway patrol for the purpose of reporting motorists who pass stopped school buses. We have also been contacting the local police or sheriff's department when this happens and reporting it to them. This has led to several cases of people being cited and fined. I have also contacted law enforcement when I notice areas with a high concentration of illegally passing motorists. The authorities will then post officers in those areas to watch for such behavior.
Transportation Supervisor
Miami County (Ohio) Board of MR/DD Bus signs, law enforcement help
Florida school buses now come with a statement on the back in six-inch black letters that says: STOP WHEN RED LIGHTS FLASH! Motorists seem to understand that. Of course, it's no guarantee. I still think law enforcement is the biggest issue. State and local authorities have a lot on their plate, but they need to make room for this issue and teach the public that they will be fined, suspended or ticketed if they are caught. As I see it, that and not much else will slow down the folks that run by our buses.
Assistant Director of Transportation
School District of Palm Beach County
West Palm Beach, Fla. For more on the topic of illegal passing, see "Campaign Essentials: Spreading the Word About Stop-Arm Running," in this issue.

NSTA 2002 award winners

CHICAGO — At its 38th annual convention in Chicago in July, the National School Transportation Assn. (NSTA) honored several members of the industry for their commitment and contributions to pupil transportation. The following people and organizations were recognized: DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD
Peter B. Slone

Slone served as a NSTA lobbyist for more than 17 years, working tirelessly to represent the industry before Congress. HALL OF FAME AWARD
John R. Edney

Edney fostered an atmosphere of professionalism and integrity during his more than 30 years in pupil transportation. Before retiring in 2001, he was vice president and chief development officer for Durham Transportation in Austin, Texas. Richard Wolfington
Wolfington, president of Wolfington Body Co. in Exton, Pa., was honored for his more than 38 years of leadership and commitment to the industry. GOLDEN MERIT AWARD
Percy L. Abbott

Abbott, vice president of safety for First Student Inc., distinguished himself at the state and national levels with his knowledge, leadership, creativity and motivation in support of the school bus industry. Benjamin Bus Inc.
Benjamin Bus Inc. in Northfield, Minn., was recognized for its professional service, excellence in management and devotion to safety. It has a perfect safety and inspection record. Robert E. Ramsdell
Ramsdell, vice president of safety education and development for Durham School Services, was recognized for his passion for safety and his belief that everyone in the firm is accountable. Nancy C. Shelton
Shelton is terminal manager for Beck Bus Transportation in Mt. Vernon, Ill. Her experience as a bus driver gives her an appreciation of other drivers' needs, and her leadership benefits the community. THOMAS BUILT BUSES CONTINUING EDUCATION AND PROFESSIONAL GROWTH GRANT
Karen V. Sanders

Sanders works for Paige Bus Enterprises in Riverdale, Ill., where she pioneered a customer relations program and has shown leadership in the industry and her community.

Cummins receives EPA approval for ISB engine

COLUMBUS, Ind. — Cummins Inc. announced that its medium-duty ISB engine has been certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The 5.9-liter ISB is the second of the company's engines to comply with new emissions standards that will go into effect Oct. 1. Cummins plans to release a full product line before that date. In April, the heavy-duty ISX became the first Cummins engine to receive EPA certification for the new standards.

Strategies for inspiring your riders

Melody Campbell-Goeken credits school bus drivers with her 6-year-old son's love of school. "These people make his day," says Campbell-Goeken. Their enthusiastic greetings help get him off to a happy start each day. But their attention does more than put him in a good mood. Even brief interaction, if meaningful, can make a child feel "connected." Studies show that kids who feel they matter to others do better in all areas of life. So how can a bus driver transporting large numbers of children make a difference in each child's life? Any caring adult who is genuinely interested can have a positive effect, says school psychologist Cheryl Somers, Ph.D. Somers feels bus drivers are an underutilized resource. "There are many helpful roles a school bus driver could assume," she says. A variety of adults who work with and around children have been documented as making a difference. "The driver might coax a shy or introverted child into feeling more confident," Somers says. A bit of pleasant conversation may even be the only positive interaction a child has all day. In those few moments when a child gets on or off the bus, an attentive, involved bus driver can model kindness, courteousness and helpfulness. In a firm but respectful manner, drivers can also intervene in problem situations, since peer teasing, harassment, and pressures often take place after school, including on the bus. Some suggestions:

  • Start by seeing children as individuals.
  • At the very least, smile. The expression is contagious, and a smile invites friendship.
  • Show students ways to solve problems, such as win-win approaches when kids are fighting over something, says Somers. For example, if two children want the front seat, suggest one sit there until you reach the first stop, then switch with the second child.
  • Encourage positive peer pressure. Empower the kids to stick together and send bullies the message that their behavior is unacceptable.
  • Notice good behavior, and reward students with sincere praise. Doing so involves an emotional connection with the child.
  • Introverted or quiet children can get overlooked in a crowd. Be sure to smile and make a friendly comment to a shy child.
  • Be alert and approachable. A bus driver who greets youths by name is more likely to notice something out of the ordinary and have a positive effect on a child's life.
  • Read about children's behavior and positive role modeling in books available at school supply stores. With desire, and a little extra effort, you can make a difference in a child's life.

    Top drivers grab honors

    CHICAGO — Top school bus drivers from across North America gathered in sweltering Chicago for the 32nd International School Bus Drivers Safety Competition on July 20 and 21. Three champions emerged from the competition, which drew nearly 100 school bus champion drivers from across Canada and the United States. Conventional bus category — Bob Drouin, Laidlaw Education Services in Mississauga, Ontario. Transit bus category — Brent Carman, Morgan Hill (Calif.) Unified School District. Small bus category — Suzanne Gettings, Penn Yan (N.Y.) Central School District. In all, 93 school bus drivers from 34 states and two Canadian provinces competed. Each driver had to take a written test, perform a vehicle inspection and engage in a behind-the-wheel exam that involved a 10-station obstacle course.

    Amber Alert helps driver spot missing boy

    FORT WORTH, Texas — School bus driver Mitzi Davis has been credited with providing the tip that led to the safe retrieval of a missing 11-month-old boy. Responding to an Amber Alert on an electronic highway sign, Davis, a driver of 10 years who was taking her bus for a practice run, recognized the vehicle described in the alert and followed it in her bus while an attendant called 911. Davis telephoned her dispatcher and detailed the car's travels until police arrived. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the baby was uninjured. The driver of the car was his aunt, Ruthie Mae Smith, who had fled with Donavyn the night before after saying she was taking him to the store. Police say that Smith took the baby to several drug houses that night, before retiring to a motel. Davis returned to work after an officer arrived on the scene. She feared being disciplined for leaving her route but has been told that she did the right thing. The Amber Alert, named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old who was kidnapped and killed in 1996, is a coordinated effort between police and the media to notify the public of child abductions.

    Driver sentenced to 35 years for bus yard shooting

    SAN JOSE, Calif. — Cathline Repunte, the school bus driver who shot and killed a coworker and injured three others at a Laidlaw bus yard last year, has been sentenced to 35 years to life in prison. Repunte pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder for killing her driving trainer Randy Rigdon Jr. and injuring three coworkers. According to the Associated Press, Repunte has been diagnosed with severe paranoid schizophrenia, but was found fit to stand trial after undergoing therapy and receiving medication.

    Iowa pioneers school bus emissions program

    DES MOINES, Iowa — At its Annual School Transportation Conference July 22-24, the state of Iowa launched the Bus Emissions Education Program (BEEP) aimed at periodically testing every diesel-powered school bus in the state. Initiated by a partnership between the Iowa Department of Education, the School Administrators of Iowa, the Iowa Pupil Transportation Assn., the Department of Natural Resources and Mirenco Inc., BEEP will test every participating public and private school bus twice annually to identify and reduce excessive diesel fumes. Over the course of five years, Mirenco, an Iowa-based emissions control company, will carry out the emissions tests at the same time the state conducts its routine school bus inspections. The first round of testing was performed in July on the state's approximately 4,500 diesel school buses. State officials said BEEP comes at no cost to school districts or the department of education. Instead, the program will be funded by donations from private businesses, individuals and organizations. Terry Voy, consultant for school transportation with the Iowa Department of Education, said that the program was developed in response to studies suggesting that Iowa's school buses are emitting unhealthy fumes. The data gathered from the testing, he said, will lead to improvements through engine repairs and preventive maintenance work. "We anticipate that improvements in tailpipe emissions can be realized through relatively simple and inexpensive measures." BEEP also includes an objective to help educate Iowa schoolchildren about tailpipe emissions and their effect on the environment. Said Dwayne Fosseen, CEO of Mirenco, "We want to not only make sure Iowa has the cleanest fleet of school buses in the nation, but also provide an opportunity for students to learn more about fossil fuels." The educational aspect of the program will help students gain greater environmental awareness so they can make more informed decisions down the road, he said. Officials say the program is the first voluntary school bus emissions testing program to exist in the nation. BEEP is modeled after a transit bus project involving Mirenco and the Transit Authority of River City in Louisville, Ky. According to Voy, every district in the state has agreed to participate in BEEP.

    Heart in the Aisles

    We asked attendees of the Southeastern States Pupil Transportation Conference, held July 14-17 in Charleston, W.Va., the following question: What are you doing to battle budget shortfalls? We had 139 routes five years ago, but today we are operating 108. Because of a computerized routing system, I have been able to reduce the number of routes and still provide, or improve, the level of safety. If you can watch your spending, watch your inventory and reduce your overall costs, you are more efficiently running your operation and you can afford more innovations.
    David Clagg
    Director of Transportation
    Christian County Schools
    Hopkinsville, Ky. We have been funded fully for the past five or six years. There seems to be some preaching of doom and gloom for the future though, so we are starting to worry about the next fiscal year. Generally we go after replacement buses first to save money.
    Michael Lunsford
    Transportation Director
    Loudoun County School District
    leesburg, Va. To fight budget problems, the first thing we have to do is cut our orders for new school buses. We usually order five or six new buses every year, but this past year we had to cut that back to two. We have 57 regular routes and we try to replace about 10 percent of the fleet each year with new buses. During a budget crunch we don't have this luxury.
    Lester Shelley
    Assistant Superintendent
    Whitley County Schools
    Williamsburg, Ky. We have a serious problem funding everything at our operation. School districts always make their first cuts to the transportation department, and it hurts. You have to cut back on routes and employees, keep old buses around longer and even stagger school times to get around it. But basically you just have to hope for the best.
    Jerry Helms
    Transportation Director
    Union County Public Schools
    Monroe, N.C.
  • Comments ( 0 )
    More Stories

    Unmarked School Bus Spotted Trying to Pick Up Students

    A Michigan school bus with the district’s name covered by spray paint tries to pick up students at a stop, but a parent won’t let them board, and the driver speeds off. Two similar sightings are reported soon after.


    Man Accused of Jumping Onto Moving School Bus

    Leverne Doran of Maryland tells police that someone on the bus threw a bottle at his vehicle. When the bus driver refuses to open the door, Doran allegedly jumps onto the front of the bus.

    Be the First to Know

    Get the latest news and most popular articles from SBF delivered straight to your inbox. Stay on top of the school bus industry and don't miss a thing!