New safety-related and background questions about over the last few days now are answered.
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Based on a situation and his questions to district representatives, Patch has continued following up on Friday regarding readers' interest in why bus drivers from California suddenly needed to be brought to Missouri to serve as drivers for students.
The Nebraska Situation That Started This Domino Effect
First, Tim Stokes, spokesperson for First Student, Inc., confirmed the legal circumstance in Nebraska, which required the contracted transportation company to make changes right before school launched Tuesday. Earlier this week, Patch reported First Student managers discovered they were 100 bus drivers short when a new school district in Omaha added 60 additional routes to their plans. That news started the chain of events that affected Rockwood families.
Nebraska apparently has a unique law that requires bus drivers to be state residents, or residents of states that border Nebraska. Stokes confirmed that drivers were deployed to Omaha in the following manner:
- 13 from Rockwood School District
- Seven from western Missouri
- Five from Kansas
- 10 from Iowa
Stokes maintains all the drivers have completed First Student nationwide training requirements, and that they made dry runs of their routes prior to conducting them for real on Tuesday morning.
He said the transportation company had a great start to the new school year, with a few time delays, which always are expected and common each year as drivers dive in. "We have no reports on any incidents in Rockwood, and just a few late situations, which are common to the first weeks of schools everywhere."
Parents Want to Know if Rockwood Officials Knew About This Situation
Stokes said he believed Rockwood officials were informed about the need to substitute and move drivers.
However, Bill Sloan, director of Rockwood transportation, told Patch on Friday morning that he and other Rockwood representatives did not know about the change in drivers until Monday, the day before school started. "We work closely with First Student, and changes are necessarily with substitute drivers nearly every day, but it would have been nice to have had more advanced notice of this," he said.
Sloan said on any given day, districts may deal with 10 to 12 substitute drivers. What he heard occurring this week is not unlike what any substitute driver goes through, he said. "Substitute drivers can be from Arnold, or Eureka, or California—it's the same kind of obstacles. They don't know the route. Really there's not a whole lot of difference in that regard, with drivers coming from California."
In fact, Sloan said when Rockwood expanded tremendously during the 1990s, district officials had to bring in bus drivers from other states. "They helped us out then; in the case of the new Omaha school, we looked at it as it's our turn to help them out," he said.
What About the Safety Complaint Related to a California Driver Here This Week?
Patch asked Stokes to further explain what a school bus "turnaround" maneuver is, because that was the circumstance that prompted Rockwood parent Russ Graves to contact district officials Thursday and to attend the board of education meeting. He said it is when a school bus driver goes down the road and turns around the opposite direction so that students coming on and off the bus are not required to cross in front of the bus.
Sloan said district officials reviewed the video captured on the bus regarding the situation described by Graves at his particular bus stop Tuesday afternoon. "His complaint was that the driver backed up instead of driving and turning before dropping off kids. And he was right, she should have turned around first before doing that," he said.
Sloan said they met with, and talked to, Graves numerous times Thursday, and that they immediately addressed the turnaround procedures with the particular driver.
Graves had wanted her taken off the route until she was further trained, but Rockwood and First Student representatives decided that step was not warranted.
Sloan said his understanding is that the driver had been a bus driver for the past five years, and that she had complete the same training as all other qualified drivers.
"We are pretty comfortable with the California drivers, but there are uniqueness to each bus route, and we've gone over those differences in-between their rounds," said Sloan.
Ironically, Sloan said he had heard there were fewer incidents or problems with the drivers from California than there were with local drivers this week.
"Bus drivers are human, and everything they juggle has an impact on their abilities to keep the students safe and the buses on time," said Sloan. "That's why we encourage all Rockwood parents to take the time to get to know the bus drivers for their children. I hope parents meet the drivers and make sure they are on the same page."
Sloan said bus drivers constantly are recruited because it takes at least three weeks to complete the necessary training, which includes classroom instruction.
Sloan said they had been told the California drivers may be present until after Labor Day. Stokes said today they hoped regular drivers would be back to Rockwood by the end of this month.