WARRENSBURG, Mo. — A new title for the final report and the addition of vehicle inspection guidelines were among the developments at the 13th National Conference on School Transportation. The conference, held every five years, took place May 14-18 at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, Mo.
This year’s document will be called “2000 National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures,” a change from the 1995 report, which was titled “1995 National Standards for School Transportation.” The proposed title change generated mixed emotions among the 300-plus delegates from 48 states and Guam. Some believe that use of the word “standards” strengthens and validates the document — a collection of equipment and operational guidelines for school transportation. Others believe the continued use of “standards” leaves school bus operators and manufacturers exposed in the event of a liability lawsuit. Instead, they favored use of the word “guidelines” or “recommendations.” The title adopted by the delegates represents a compromise, with language that is authoritative but not overly restrictive.
Several delegates said the focus of the conference has strayed too far in the direction of liability concerns rather than focusing on the safety and efficiency of school transportation. “I’m concerned about the focus of the conference,” said David Huff, traffic education director for the Montana Office of Public Instruction. “Our mission is to advance the safety of children. The proper place for attorneys is behind you, covering your rear, not in front of you, impeding your progress.”
In other developments, the delegates adopted a new document that lists out-of-service criteria for school bus inspectors. According to its authors, the list is intended to establish a national minimum standard for inspecting and placing school buses out of service. The document was approved by the delegates with few revisions and little discussion. Perhaps the most controversial proposal was an appendix called “Student Travel Uniform Incident Reporting.” The intent was to encourage the gathering of data about student injuries and fatalities that occur during travel to and from school — whether involving a school bus, transit bus, passenger car, bicycle or foot travel. This proposal was deemed impractical by many delegates, who complained that they didn’t have the resources to track all types of injury crashes and accidents involving student travel. “I can’t imagine putting this in place in a state with 45,000 school buses,” said Marion Edick, director of pupil transportation services for the New York Department of Education. “It’s an onerous system.” But others supported the concept. “It could be a very useful resource,” said Charlie Hood, director of school transportation for the Florida Department of Education and chair of the conference’s steering committee. “It’s simply a tool that could be used by school districts.”
“Gathering this type of information could give school districts a bigger picture [of how safe school buses are compared to other modes of transportation],” added Ted Finlayson-Schueler of the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute and one of the principal authors of the appendix. After much discussion, a motion to postpone any action on the appendix was approved by a 25-24 vote. Printed copies of the final document will not be ready until this fall. The 1995 edition spanned more than 350 pages. For more information, contact Dr. Leanna Depue at Central Missouri State University. The phone number is 660/543-4830.