HELENA, Mont. — In 2002, Montana State Superintendent Linda McCulloch and members of her staff at the Office of Public Instruction boarded a school bus and began visiting schools around the state. Dubbed the Yellow School Bus Tours, the crew logged about 2,300 miles in five trips. McCulloch discussed the program with SBF
SBF: How did the tour come about?
MCCULLOCH: About a year-and-a-half ago, I put a challenge out to the employees in our office to think of any way we could reach out to schools and do a better job providing them with resources and services. One of the employees came up with the idea. We just played with it a while to see how we could make it work. We have a lot of folks here who have never worked in a school, so, since we’re the education agency, I wanted everyone to be comfortable and to have some experience in schools.
SBF: What are the goals of the program?
MCCULLOCH: The main goal is to see how our state education agency can better serve our schools. It’s also a way for us to get a firsthand look at what the challenges and successes are in our Montana schools and communities. And when I talk about better serving schools, I’m talking about everything from classrooms to lunchrooms to pupil transportation — all facets of the school. One of the things I make sure our staff knows before we go is that this is not a trip for us to monitor the schools. It’s for us to learn from them. And we make sure the schools know that, too. You can solicit information from schools, but when they have you in their building, they’re much more likely to really tell you what it is that they would like to see more of or less of from our office.
SBF: How is the tour funded?
MCCULLOCH: We have a very small budget, so it obviously had to be done on a shoestring. The bus companies in Montana have been very good about donating buses to us. We have two members of our staff who are fully licensed bus drivers, so our staff does the driving. We often get invited into the schools in the morning to have breakfast with them, and often they have a potluck for us in the evening. For some of the other expenses, we pay out of our own budgets.
SBF: How is it riding on a school bus for such long trips?
MCCULLOCH: To be honest, one of the staff concerns from the beginning was how comfortable the bus is. But after every trip, the thought has been that the buses are more comfortable than everyone expected them to be. When we first talked about doing this, the staff wanted to know why we couldn’t take a luxury bus. I said, “You know, the kids get to school and home every day in a school bus, so we’re going to take a school bus.” I think it’s been one of the successes. We show up at a school in a yellow bus, and that’s usually the talk of the town.
SBF: Are you planning more tours?
MCCULLOCH: Definitely. We have a trip planned in eastern Montana for May. In fact, we have way more invitations from schools than we could possibly have the time for. They are definitely wanting us to come. We’re going to keep doing this as long as we can scrape together the money to do it. It’s been such a good experience. I think it would be beneficial to any state to look at doing something like this.
For more information on the Yellow School Bus Tour, go to http://www.opi.state.mt.us/YellowBusTour/index.html.
INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) recently completed a state-of-the-art driver and attendant training facility that offers a realistic way to simulate various school bus driving situations. The facility, located inside the IPS transportation offices, includes wheelchair lifts and tracks, extracted bus seats with restraints, a fully equipped classroom with a projector, computer-interactive multimedia and four indoor bus bodies.
“Words cannot adequately describe what the various training aids can duplicate,” says Bill Bowman, supervisor of vehicle maintenance. “We think the facility is the only one of its kind.”
Two of the bus bodies are turned on their sides to simulate a rollover situation. One has the entrance door down and the other has the entrance door up. Each unit has passenger seats, the driver’s seat and wheelchairs fastened to the floor. Roof hatches and emergency exit doors are the only means of escape from the buses. Access into the upended buses is gained through doors cut into the roof sections. For training, drivers and attendants are placed inside, and the door is shut. They must then find a safe way out while also rescuing dummies representing children.
According to Gene Moore, transportation director for IPS, the facility offers a new experience to even the best-trained driver. He says getting into a bus lying on its side is a unique experience because your brain is used to processing a bus aisle in its normal upright position. “Seeing it at a different angle, as it might be after an accident, can be confusing,” he says.
GARY, Ind. — Belinda Scott and Terri Ransom, sisters and high school teachers at Gary Community School Corporation, have been hailed as heroes after the two of them gained control of a runaway school bus and pulled the vehicle, along with 40 students, to safety.
The bus was returning from a field trip in Chicago when the driver collapsed at the wheel, causing the bus to veer off the road and begin scraping a guardrail. The driver was strapped in her seat belt and could not be moved. According to student reports, Scott dove to the floor and began pushing the brakes while trying to steer the bus out of harm’s way.
“Because I could not see the road,” Scott told reporters,” I had to trust my judgment.”
Scott was able to stop the bus, and the driver of a second bus in the two-bus caravan helped her park the bus safely off the road. Ransom aided her sister during the successful rescue attempt and called 911.
Fellow teachers, school district administrators and students are praising the brave efforts of the teachers. “Their quick action prevented what could have been a terrible bus accident that would have resulted in many serious injuries and potential fatalities,” said Scott Elliott, transportation director for Gary Community School Corporation.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Lawmakers in Arkansas have passed a bill that prohibits school bus drivers from using cell phones while operating their vehicles.
The measure excludes emergency situations, such as a 911 call. Also exempted is cell phone use when the bus is parked.
Mike Simmons, coordinator of school transportation for the Arkansas Department of Education, said the legislation was not prompted by a school bus accident. “This is more of a response to public opinion and the general trend of other states,” he said.
The penalty for the misdemeanor violation is a $100 to $250 fine.
CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. — In January 1995, the Chappaqua Central School District created a volunteer adult danger zone monitor program with the intention of having a trained adult present at every school bus stop in the district. The program relied on parents and caregivers to volunteer to undergo training that would teach them how to keep children safe during the loading and unloading of students at the bus stop.
Assisting with this training, the PTA at Chappaqua Central School District worked with Chappaqua Transportation Inc., the district’s school bus provider, and the local police to film and produce a video titled “Protecting Your Child” that teaches parents and caregivers how to become danger zone monitors. The 12-minute video includes interviews with the district superintendent, school administrators and elementary school children. It also has step-by-step instruction — with actors’ demonstrations — of the procedure danger zone monitors must follow at school bus stops.
“Properly educated parents are partners,” said Joan Corwin, president of Chappaqua Transportation, who helped in the creation of the video. “The parents in our community understand the dangers at the bus stop because we have taken the time to educate and communicate.”
The video is distributed to every parent of an elementary school bus rider and includes a call for interested volunteers to contact the PTA. The monitor program and video have been a success and, according to Corwin, there is a trained adult at every elementary school bus stop in the district.
For more information on the adult danger zone monitor program and the accompanying training video, contact Corwin at (914) 238-4404.
PHILADELPHIA — A former Oley (Pa.) School District bus driver accused of kidnapping 13 children last year will use the insanity defense in trial, his attorney announced.
Prosecutors can now hire a psychiatrist to study whether Otto L. Nuss was capable of understanding the severity of his actions in the January 2002 incident. Nuss, 63, carried a loaded rifle and 98 rounds of ammunition on his bus route and took 13 students on an unauthorized field trip to Washington, D.C.
Filing of the insanity notice postponed Nuss’ March 19 trial date. At press time, no new date had been set, but the psychiatric evaluation should occur within 30 days of the original trial date, according to court records.
Nuss, who has been held in federal custody without bail since his arrest, is charged with 13 counts of kidnapping and one count of using a gun during a violent crime. He had previously pleaded innocent to the charges.
Officials say that Nuss has had a long history of successful treatment for schizophrenia. He was hired as a driver by the school district’s bus service provider in 2001. In the kidnapping incident, Nuss allegedly said he was taking the weapons to Washington to make a statement to President Bush.
WICHITA, Kan. — A school bus driver for Wichita Public Schools was jailed last month, accused of carrying a loaded handgun on his school bus.
According to local news reports, someone called 911 to report shots fired onboard or near a school bus. Police later stopped the bus and searched the students and the bus. They discovered a gun in the driver’s coat pocket.
A supervisor for Durham School Services, the driver’s employer, said a background check revealed nothing about the driver, who was hired less than a year ago. There were no complaints about his driving or him during his tenure, nor were there any reports of discipline problems aboard the bus.
In a letter sent home to parents of students who were on the bus, the school administration praised the Wichita Police Department for a quick response. The letter also stressed that at no time were students threatened by the bus driver. The shots heard by the 911 caller turned out to be fireworks.
At press time, the driver had been suspended without pay and was to be terminated at a later date.