National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) members heard a major theme emerge during the general sessions and seminars at the 2009 Summit: namely, that transportation is a key part of the education system, and the industry must take on and promote that role in order to achieve larger safety and educational goals.
Speakers reframe industry’s role
Particularly noteworthy was Hon. Dirk Kempthorne’s address, which touched on both topics. A champion of the school bus industry, the former U.S. senator and secretary of the Interior mentioned a wooden school bus model presented to him during his time as governor of Idaho, “a reminder of what I consider a cornerstone of our education system,” he said. “The political process requires the best in all of us, and I believe that means an involved citizenry. NAPT is representative of that.”
Peggy Burns of Education Compliance Group Inc. reinforced those themes, saying, “Your role in attendance and student success must be a part of your strategy.” In her address, she discussed the need to balance pressing issues that garner media attention, such as the H1N1 virus, sexual predators, global warming and terrorism, while still dealing with the perennial issues that arise in pupil transportation, such as incidents of student assault or harassment on the school bus.
Statistics show that these incidents have increased in number over the last 10 years, she said, noting that the school bus provides a ripe opportunity for this type of behavior. “The person at each helm must take reasonable action — that’s what the law asks us to do,” she said.
Keynote speaker Teena Fitzroy told her life story with the aim of helping attendees understand the perspective of students with special needs. Fitzroy, a family information specialist for Monroe #1 BOCES in Fairport, N.Y., grew up with cerebral palsy and was the first child with a disability to attend her local elementary school.
Her presentation, titled “Junk in My Trunk,” focused on the assumptions people make about those with disabilities and the struggles she has faced and overcome. “Society’s attitude is the No. 1 problem for people with disabilities,” Fitzroy remarked.
Government officials provide updates
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) special investigator Dennis Collins presented an update on the agency’s recent report on pedal misapplication accidents. Four of the five accidents discussed in the report involve school buses, with available evidence pointing to pedal misapplication (mistaking the accelerator for the brakes) as the cause.
Collins told attendees that NTSB’s recommendations in the report include the installation of brake transmission shift interlock devices on all new school buses, research on pedal design, the installation of event data recorders and physically separating buses from pedestrians at pickup and drop-off.
“Part of NTSB’s mission is to restore public confidence in an extremely safe mode of transportation,” Collins explained.
Jim Blubaugh, director of the EPA’s Clean Diesel program, announced a $5 million grant to NAPT that will allow school districts to reduce monthly lease payments for CNG buses. The National School Bus Equity Investment Lease Program will provide funds that can be recycled year after year, and Blubaugh said the EPA expects to leverage over $120 million over the course of the program.
Bill Arrington, Highway and Motor Carrier Division manager at the Transportation Security Administration, updated NAPT on the agency’s actions. The long-awaited school bus assessment is completed, he said. He expected Congress to have it by the end of 2009 and hopes it will produce federal funding for school bus security efforts.
Finally, John Van Steenburg, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s director of enforcement and compliance, reported that the agency hopes to create an approved list of medical examiners for CDL certifications and a pre-employment driver database accessible to school bus operators.