Crime and punishment

Posted on May 11, 2010

Editor's note: In the February issue (pg. 4), I described an incident in which a school bus driver was charged with illegally passing another school bus. I asked readers to tell us how they would respond to such an incident at their operation, and what offenses lead to immediate termination. Here are several of the insightful responses.

Suspension for first offense
We had such an incident with a new driver this year. Beyond dealing with law enforcement, it is our policy that the driver is suspended without pay for a week, and before that driver is allowed back in the seat of one of our buses, they will attend with one of our trainers a defensive driving course and focus on stops of all types when driving a school bus. The driver must meet with the transportation director to go over the expectations of the district and policies for driving a school bus. At the meeting, the driver and the transportation director must sign that the policies have been explained and it is understood that if there is a repeat offense, the driver will face immediate dismissal. This is the way our situation was handled and will be handled in the future.
Director of Transportation
Blair (Neb.) Community Schools

No tolerance for stranding child
I manage Head Start transportation in Northwest Indiana, and we have zero tolerance for leaving a child on the bus — whether it is two minutes or one hour.

The bus-passing-bus incident has only happened one time, but my driver did not get the bus number. When I called the school barn and told them of the time and place, figuring they could find out, I was told thanks and they would investigate and was never called back. I now have a different approach if it happens again. I will call the city police.
Transportation Manager
Geminus Head Start
Merrillville, Ind.

Many factors in discipline
You are quite right about the serious nature of buses passing the stop signs on other buses. However, I don't believe that there is much support for such an extreme penalty as termination on the first offense or even the second. We have a tough enough time maintaining zero tolerance for bus drivers who leave students unattended on the bus.

Our contract with the union does not specifically cover such an issue, and to try to negotiate language would be a very daunting task. What we do have is a provision that requires a driver to report a traffic violation immediately if cited by the police. The consequence is that they are responsible for the cost of the ticket. We are limited in the discipline area to address the behavior, unless of course there were to be an accident associated with the infraction.

An immediate dismissal requires first the recommendation of human resources and concurrence with CSEA [California School Employees Association]. This then would necessitate a due-process action through the Skelly process. If it were to be upheld, it would then have to be recommended and presented to the board of education for approval.

More often than not, HR would push for a resignation from the affected employee or a reduction in the penalty. Even if the penalty were significant, 15 to 30 days of suspension, it would most likely get reduced, and then the days would be spread out so as to not impact the driver's pocketbook.

Sometimes it is very frustrating to deal with an issue that has such a huge potential impact on the students, just to have it reduced to the point of insignificance. And yet it is the common refrain we hear when the employees want something to benefit themselves: It's for the children. When will our concerns and actions actually mimic the refrain?
Transportation Director
Moreno Valley (Calif.) Unified School District

Focus on training
I have just finished reading this article and cannot believe that a school bus would try to pass another school bus. I have never personally encountered this, but my first thought was, "Wow — someone sure dropped the ball on the training of this driver."

When a driver is being trained to drive a bus, stopping for a bus with red lights on is discussed a lot. And every inservice training, it gets brought up. I would hope that in addition to paying a hefty fine, the at-fault driver would have to go through training before he/she is sent back out on the road. As far as automatic dismissal, each incident would be reviewed and discussed and decided upon depending on the severity of the incident.
Transportation Supervisor
North Shore Head Start
Peabody, Mass.

Skipping to higher discipline
We have never had this type of incident, to my knowledge, but it would mean conducting a disciplinary hearing. We would make a police report, have the driver of the passed bus write up the incident and schedule a hearing for the passing driver. We do not have any policy regarding this situation. We do have a progressive discipline process, and this would be treated very seriously and could involve invoking greater discipline than just the next step in the progressive process. We have the ability to  "skip" steps of discipline and invoke a higher level if the incident warrants it. Drivers breaking the law, receiving citations or creating serious safety concerns typically result in higher-level discipline, up to and including discharge. Very fortunately, we do not have too many of these sort — knock on wood.
Transportation Supervisor
Dearborn (Mich.) Public Schools

Related Topics: driver handbook/policies, stop-arm running/illegal passing

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