Over the past few years, several diesel exhaust studies have created fears about the possible hazards of school bus emissions. Here’s how you can address these issues with parents:
For information about local and state associations, check with other school transportation professionals in your area or grab a copy of SBF’s 2004 Fact Book and peruse the Industry Associations section.
There are also a couple of national associations that might meet your needs. The National Association for Pupil Transportation (www.napt.org) mainly serves school district operations but also includes contractor members, while the National School Transportation Association (www.yellowbuses.org) focuses exclusively on the contractor community.
Critical to meeting this challenge, however, is the knowledge base of the transportation providers, especially when dealing with special-needs passengers.
Last year, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the U.S. Department of Education issued a memorandum about the need for “meaningful and effective communication” between state special-education officials and local school districts on the subject of transporting students with disabilities.
When necessary, transportation providers should be involved in a student’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP).
Access & Mobility, a guide on transporting students with disabilities published by the California Association of School Transportation Officials, describes the IEP process this way: “This is an opportunity for transportation personnel in concert with special-education professionals and parents to develop the best strategy for delivery of effective services.”
The program, branded “First Ride,” has been a great success since its inception, says Southland Transportation’s June Read. “It highlights the important role parents play to ensure that their children are in safe hands — not only on the bus but also on the journey between bus stop and home,” she says.
Here’s how it works: A phone number and reservation system is set up for each of the participating school boards. After agreeing on a First Ride date, school locations are set up, with the transportation managers providing the necessary audio-visual equipment, support staff and volunteers.
A corporate sponsor provides juice and snacks for attendees and volunteers, as well as a goodie bag and handout for each child. Meanwhile, Alberta’s provincial government safety agency hands out materials such as reflective arm bands.
The educational component includes a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation on bus safety and the showing of a Winnie the Pooh school bus safety video. These presentations are followed by a “first ride” on a school bus. The program concludes with the distribution of safety handouts.
Additionally, if you don’t already have an emergency manual for non-natural disasters, consider developing one. Use training programs, local emergency response teams and feedback from other operations to help collate the material. Bomb threats, for example, are realistic threats to a school bus, whether terrorist related or not. Having procedures to prepare everyone for emergencies should cover most terrorist acts and a slew of other dilemmas.
The pilot program involves retrofitting existing Krapf school buses with emission reduction technology. Krapf implemented the program upon learning about the EPA’s initiative, which is designed to help communities across the nation reduce pollution from school buses.
The technology used to retrofit Krapf’s buses is the same as the technology that will be used to meet the 2007 EPA requirements for all new diesel school buses. Krapf is one of the first private school bus fleets to start such a program. “I take what we do very seriously and personally,” he says. “I feel a responsibility to help keep the air free of pollutants.”
Working with school districts near its home base in Exton, Pa., Krapf Bus is retrofitting school buses with emission control technology. “We are working with some very progressive school districts who understand the benefits and value of clean diesel technology,” Krapf says.
During the first phase of the program, Krapf has retrofitted four buses in the Great Valley School District in Malvern, Pa. The next phase will be the retrofit of 16 school buses in the West Chester (Pa.) Area School District.
The technology being installed on Krapf school buses is manufactured by Johnson Matthey. The combination of its particulate filters, which use continuously regenerating technology, and ultra low sulfur diesel fuel can reduce emission pollutants by more than 90 percent.
The filters will require maintenance every 60,000 to 100,000 miles of operation, but other than that are “fit-and-forget.” While Krapf acknowledges that retrofitting school buses can be costly for a school district or school bus contractor — the cost can vary from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending upon the retrofit technology — the cost of not doing it is greater in terms of health risks.
“It’s important to us that the emissions that come from our buses are as clean as possible,” Krapf says. “That’s why we’re voluntarily retrofitting our school buses with Johnson Matthey technology.”
Have all personnel who come in contact with students commit this to memory. Children observe how you drive, speak, gesture and react to their behavior. They also notice when you forget to talk with them or forget their names.
School transportation personnel, especially bus drivers, need to be good role models. This evokes similar behavior from their riders.
— Submitted by Gary Coller, bus driver at Gross School Bus Service in Wyomissing, Pa.
Denver Public Schools implemented a “dumb rules” committee to review the district’s rulebook and examine questionable practices. Based on staff, parent and student complaints, the committee investigated each potentially silly rule and, if necessary, followed a set procedure for how to remove or alter it.
The school system also created a Web page dedicated to the dumb rules task force, and interested parties have been encouraged to e-mail suggestions and concerns to staff members through the site. The program created a direct outlet for basic problems to receive administrative-level attention.
By the way, you need a pretty powerful computer system (with printer) to handle most of the work, but the good thing is the hardware is usually less expensive than most of the software!
— Submitted by Neal Abramson, transportation director, Santa Monica-Malibu (Calif.) Unified School District
The drivers use this program to reward students who act responsibly, and it has become a much-coveted honor. But there’s a larger payoff: Should a driver become incapacitated, the bus and its occupants have a better chance of survival.
— Submitted by Dan O’Rork, transportation coordinator, Douglas County School District, Zephyr Cove, Nev.
Start a recycle program for your drivers by placing recycling bins in the lounge. Staff members are sure to empty plenty of cans and bottles during lunch and other breaks each day.
Additionally, kids often leave a lot of recyclable material on buses, and with a fleet of buses, these will add up.
Cash in returns, if possible, and put a portion of the money into operational improvements, gifts or special events for the staff.
After working for four to five weeks unsuccessfully to get the students to ride safely, I came up with a new idea. On a particularly unsafe afternoon, I pulled the bus over to the side of the road and talked again about the “whys” for the seven bus safety rules.
After pulling back on the road, the problem continued. So I pulled over again, put my feet on the “dog house,” leaned back in my seat, got out my paperback book and started reading.
The students began yelling, “I gotta get home,” “I have to go to work,” “I have to go to practice,” etc. I continued to read for a few moments, then I raised my hand until it got quiet.
Then I said, “I get paid to 7 o’clock, so it doesn’t matter to me. When you decide to ride safely with your backs to the back of the seat, your bottoms on the bottom, feet out of the aisle and all body parts inside the bus, we will try again.”
For about 30 to 45 seconds, there was yelling and threats. As it became quieter and quieter, I continued to read my book. About two or three minutes later we started on route again. Things were fine for a day or two and then slowly began to return to an unsafe ride.
Ten days later I had to pull over again and read my book for about three or four minutes. That was the last time I needed to pull over. Four months later we turned the route over to a regular driver.
— Submitted by Tom Jones, team leader/trainer, Leander (Texas) Independent School District
Well, here in Vermont we do not have asphalt or concrete in our bus lots. With the help of our safety trainer, Les Howe, we made a mirror clinic on a large sheet of polyethylene. This allows us to transport the mirror clinic to all of our locations.
Our second portable mirror device is made with red, yellow and white plastic plates that are joined with twine. Storage is simple because the plates are piled one on top of the other and put into a carrying bag. This has allowed us to get every driver certified in mirror station training.
— Submitted by Betsy Ward, contract manager, First Student Inc. in Woodstock, Vt.
Some of my methods that are practiced in my district include the following:
— Submitted by Brad Barker, shop supervisor, Park City (Utah) School District