State pupil transportation directors convened in Portland, Ore., this fall to discuss a variety of vital topics, including school bus security and pedestrian fatalities.

The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) conference, held Oct. 29 to Nov. 1, got rolling with an intriguing presentation: “Why Does an Old-Fashioned Childhood Sound So Radical?”

The speaker, Free-Range Kids founder Lenore Skenazy, argued that the world is much safer than the media lead us to believe. The New York City resident, who gained notoriety after she wrote a column about letting her 9-year-old son find his way home by himself on the subway, advocated teaching our children the skills and responsibility to be more independent.

She said that may include allowing them to walk to school or the school bus stop on their own.

Homing in on security
The conference’s next presentation provided an interesting contrast: “School Buses and Terrorism Awareness.”

FBI Special Agent Marybeth King discussed why school buses could be an alluring target for extremists. King gave insight into how terrorists work and how they aim to carry out their agendas. An attack on kids — whether at a school or in a school bus — would have a widespread impact on the public, particularly as it is covered by the media.

King stressed the importance of drivers’ pre-trip inspections and of having a secure bus facility. “If you are vulnerable to vandals, you are vulnerable to anything,” she said.

King also cautioned against making school bus route information available online. “If you post it, it takes away maybe the one chance you have of seeing someone following a bus,” she said.

Safety outside the bus
One of the more interactive sessions was a panel discussion on reducing pedestrian fatalities, moderated by California state director John Green (who announced his retirement in December — as SBF reported here). The panelists were North Carolina state director Derek Graham, Anna Borges of the California Department of Education (who succeeded John Green) and Iowa state director Max Christensen.

The dialogue, which included comments from many in the audience, centered on two pressing issues: what to do about students being struck by passing motorists, and what to do about students being struck by their own school buses.

Within the arena of passing motorists, one concept that generated much discussion was that of enforcement. Graham explained that while some call for stiffer penalties for those who illegally pass school buses, his state has seen that stiffer penalties are less likely to be enforced. Florida state director and outgoing NASDPTS president Charlie Hood added that when car seat fines were raised in his state, convictions went down.

Other ideas that were talked about included the use of surveillance cameras to catch passing motorists (and how states’ laws can affect that process) and the potential for using public awareness campaigns to make it clear that passing a stopped school bus is dangerous and unacceptable.

Regarding the problem of students being struck by their own buses, discussions covered the importance of proper mirror adjustment (industry consultant Dick Fischer said that he constantly sees crossover mirrors that are not adjusted correctly), the need in some cases for “back-to-basics” training, and having the driver get out of the bus to escort children across the street, as is done in California.


High-profile presentations
The event also included updates from several federal agency officials, industry outlooks from executives of the three large school bus manufacturers and a presentation on the results of the Alabama school bus seat belt study (see story in 2011 Fact Book, pg. 8).

With the Portland conference, Hood wrapped up his two-year term as NASDPTS president, handing over the reins to Arkansas state director Mike Simmons. Christensen moved into the role of president-elect.

There were a few new state directors in attendance this year. David Koskelowski of Wyoming and Carlos Santiago of New Mexico took over for Leeds Pickering and Gilbert Perea, respectively, both of whom retired in 2010. Koskelowski and Santiago had attended the 2009 conference with their predecessors.

Also, Dennis Watson, who was slated to become Alaska’s new state director in January, attended the Portland event with his predecessor, Elizabeth Sweeney Nudelman.

Next year’s conference is scheduled for Oct. 21-24 in Cincinnati.