Example of the unexpected: Waco
In 1993, a mission of mercy took place when a police officer interrupted a church service where Charley Kennington and his wife were mindful of the children who were at the Branch Davidian compound in nearby Waco.
The officer advised Kennington that cult leader David Koresh had agreed to let the children go.
“We need to have a school bus in front of the Waco Police Department within 45 minutes,” the officer advised Kennington, who was transportation director at Waco Independent School District at the time and now heads up Innovative Transportation Solutions.
A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agent in full gear was waiting at the police station and described the plan. Kennington would drive the bus to the final checkpoint outside the compound, and then the agent would drive the bus in to pick up the children.
“I need to know everything you can tell me about the school bus,” the agent said, and Kennington began to talk him through it as they drove to the site.
Unfortunately, before they got to the compound, Koresh changed his mind and would not release the children. The standoff continued for days, ending with the fire that engulfed the compound and resulted in many deaths.
But that wasn’t the end of the transportation story. Some time later, the ATF relied on school buses and drivers to transport agents to and from the airport when all of its agents that were involved in the incident were brought back to visit the site, in an effort to bring closure to the event and emotionally move on in their lives.
Trained to anticipate, respond
So, school transporters are expected to master their vehicles to provide security in any number of natural disasters, community emergencies and catastrophic events. On top of that, there’s an everyday commitment to passenger security.
How many communities across the country recognize the breadth and depth of pupil transportation training? There’s the skill of driving safely, the act of passenger protection and the tact of managing behaviors. There’s CPR, oxygen tanks, tracheotomies and administering live-saving medications. There’s car seat securement, securing wheelchairs in a vehicle, securing a passenger in a wheelchair, wheelchair lift operation and emergency evacuation techniques — for passengers of all sizes, all behaviors and all physical conditions.
Vales of the Tangipahoa Parish School System says that his job, when called upon, “is to get people out of harm’s way.”
Of her team’s gesture to provide warmth and shelter for nursing home evacuees, Wetzel of Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools says: “I’m sure many school districts are doing this. We really aren’t special.”
Special or not, maybe the pupil transportation industry should toot its horn a bit more about the vital role we play in homeland security.
Roseann Schwaderer consults on state and local conference planning and offers editing/writing services. She is known for her work on special-needs transportation conferences and is editor and publisher of Legal Routes, a bimonthly report on pupil transportation law and compliance written by Peggy Burns.
Balancing customer service with security risk
Here’s a question for these unsettling times that a Kansas City regional offshoot of the Missouri Association for Pupil Transportation (KCMAPT) is grappling with: “How does a school district maintain an environment of stellar customer service while ensuring the highest security possible on its school buses?”
To help find approaches and answers to that balancing act, KCMAPT has been meeting with stakeholders that include school district transportation administrators and managers, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) representatives, local law enforcement officials, vendors and taxi cab company officials. (Kansas City Public Schools transports around 300 children per year under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.)
Patrick Kneib, president of the group and director of transportation for Kansas City Public Schools, offers these examples of differences in approaches taken by two school districts within his region:
One district imposes a 25-foot “bubble” around its buses. Parents, guardians, non-students and others are prohibited from approaching buses within that zone.
Another district won’t address or talk to anyone at the bus service door. Individuals may approach at the driver’s side “if it’s safe to.”
Kneib says that his district benefitted from a base assessment provided by the local TSA surface transportation agents when they were brought in last summer to assess the district’s vulnerability to threats. TSA, he notes, has been “very good at offering resources, training, information and help” and providing referrals to other experts.
While KCMAPT continues to search for answers to the balance between customer service and security, Kneib notes that while approaches may vary from district to district, they will to some degree hinge on legal interpretations of custody and care.
For instance, his district has a policy of not refusing entry to a student at a bus stop. So what do you do when a student is not an authorized rider?
Kneib says, for example: “a kid at a bus stop, it’s not their school, it’s not their route. It’s about how much jurisdiction a district wants to take. … If the kid is refused and something happens, what is the liability? We’re trying to work through that as a regional group.”