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School bus training varies widely

Atlanta Lawyer > Atlanta News  > School bus training varies widely

School bus training varies widely

If your child gets on a school bus today, the ride might be safer in one school district than in another.

That’s because the driver might have anywhere from 24 to 120 hours of required training, depending on the school district.

Monday’s deadly school bus crash in Carroll County, in which a trainee was behind the wheel, has raised questions about the level of preparedness among school bus drivers.

The training, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found, varies wildly from school district to school district.

While the state education agency makes on-site assessments of district training only once every five years, officials said they’ve found districts that couldn’t hand over records indicating compliance.

“They can’t say they’ve produced the training we’ve required,” board spokesman Matt Cardoza said.

At the same time, the Georgia State Patrol hasn’t been able to find records showing whether the driver involved in Monday’s crash had the proper license to drive a school bus, said spokesman Gordy Wright.

The school district said the driver, Kenneth Ross Herringdine, 59, was driving with a temporary school bus driver’s license and was under the supervision of a trainer at the time of the accident.

Elena Schulenburg, a school system spokeswoman, said the driver was driving legally. Even though he hadn’t received his permanent license, he fulfilled all of the requirements, Schulenburg said.

He had logged 20 hours of classroom training, six hours of driving an empty bus and 12 hours of driving students while under the supervision of a trainer, Schulenburg said.

The state Board of Education requires that school districts give bus drivers 24 hours of training: at least 12 hours of classroom training, six hours of driving an empty bus, and six hours of driving students while under the supervision of a trainer.

On Monday afternoon, a school bus Herringdine drove veered off Ga. 113, ran into a ditch and rolled over before landing on its side.

The crash killed James “Ray Ray” Rashawn Walker, 17, an aspiring graphic designer and member of the Temple High School football team, and it injured 13 students.

While Carroll County schools wouldn’t comment on whether its bus drivers must complete any training beyond the minimum standards set by the state, district demands in metro Atlanta are far from uniform, The Atlanta Journal Constitution learned.

For example:

● Clayton County requires its bus drivers to have the state minimum 24 hours of training and requires a physical fitness test.

● Cobb County applicants spend 12 hours in the bus, in addition to unspecified classroom work, according to the district’s Web site.

Drivers must also undergo criminal background checks, medical exams and drug and alcohol screening.

Beyond the state-required classroom and road training, Cobb requires drivers to receive CPR and First Aid certification, too.

● In Fulton County, drivers must sit through 22 hours of classroom time. Some drivers could spend as much as 63 hours behind the wheel in training. All of that time during training is monitored by an instructor, district officials said.

● Gwinnett County school bus drivers must go through 55 classroom hours and 65 driving hours of training — well above the state requirements, school officials said.

Across the state, school bus drivers must receive three certifications: a commercial driver’s license, a certification to carry more than 16 passengers and a certification to drive to a school bus.

Meanwhile, in Carroll County, investigators are still trying to determine what caused Monday’s crash.

The bus had no obvious mechanical problems, and Herringdine was not suspected of using alcohol or drugs, Georgia State Patrol Sgt. Justin Howard said.

The new bus was equipped with a video camera.

Police plan to review the recording in addition to interviewing witnesses, the bus driver and surviving passengers to determine why the bus ran off the road and flipped, Howard said.

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