Some jurisdictions require training, review for school bus drivers beyond state rules

What are the requirements to be a school bus driver in Maryland?

When Shanae Neely applied for a job as a bus driver for Baltimore County public schools, the city bus crash last month that killed six people weighed heavy on her mind.

The 33-year-old Reisterstown woman has three boys — a 12-year-old and 7-year-old twins — and said she takes seriously the responsibility that comes with driving a 10-ton vehicle filled with children.

"It's all about the safety of the kids," she said.

Neely was among a dozen prospective school bus drivers who attended a recruitment session Friday at county schools headquarters in Towson, where human resources officials and the system's transportation director, David McCrae, laid out requirements applicants would need to meet before being hired.

The state sets requirements for school bus drivers, but some jurisdictions in Maryland add additional layers of driving record scrutiny and training.

Under state law, school bus drivers must be 21, have a commercial driver's license and no more than two points on their driving records. They also must undergo background checks, drug tests and regular medical evaluations, as well as six hours of classroom training and nine hours of behind-the-wheel instruction. In addition, many systems submit their drivers' records for monitoring by the MVA.

Glenn Chappell, who was driving the school bus that collided with a Maryland Transit Administration bus on Nov. 1 in Southwest Baltimore, had a history of crashes, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report released this week. He and five people aboard the MTA bus were killed. The cause of the crash has not been determined.

Chappell had a history of hypertension, diabetes and seizures but did not report his medical conditions to the MVA when he signed documents under penalty of perjury, officials said.

Baltimore City Public Schools, which uses school buses provided by private transportation companies, terminated its contract with Chappell's employer, AAAfordable Transportation, following the crash.

The city school system's requirements for bus drivers are the same as the state's, said spokeswoman Edie House-Foster.

Some jurisdictions have additional requirements. In Baltimore County, for instance, officials say they mandate 40 hours of classroom training and 20 hours of behind-the-wheel instruction — more than the state requires.

The system also typically provides for more in-service training than required by law, and schedules re-training after a preventable accident, said Assistant Transportation Director Kenny West.

The county uses 895 district-owned buses and 130 additional contract buses to ferry roughly 80,000 students each day. Drivers for the eight contracted firms are required to undergo the same checks and testing as drivers employed directly by the school system, West said.

In Howard County, the school system contracts for all of its more than 450 school buses, said Transportation Director David Ramsay. The county mandates that drivers take more safety classes than required by state law, and also randomly inspects buses more regularly than the three times per year required by the state, he said.

All Howard County-contracted buses were outfitted with cameras beginning this year, Ramsay said, giving administrators another means to monitor drivers.

He also said drivers are often invited to the schools they serve to meet with teachers and administrators.

"The school bus is an extension of the school day," Ramsay said. "We want to make sure our bus drivers are actively supporting the initiatives that the schools have within their school house."

McCrae described the role of bus drivers as Olympic relay runners.

"Parents, guardians — they pass us the baton," he said. "We carry that baton from a safety point of view, a routine point of view, a consistency point of view. ... Six hours later, [the schools] pass the baton back to us, and we give it back to the families."

As she took part in Friday's recruitment fair, Neely said she appreciates that role — and hopes to fulfill it. She'll find out later if she's hired.

"Bus drivers are the first point of contact for the schools," she said. "I just want to gain the trust from parents that their kids are safe each day on their way to school."

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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