Audit of Baltimore school bus system hasn't begun, months after urgent recommendation for one

After a deadly school bus crash last year in Southwest Baltimore, federal investigators requested an urgent audit of the system to screen city school bus drivers.

Three months later, however, the audit has not begun, state and city education officials said.

Baltimore school officials said Friday the district will pay for the audit. Now state education officials, who have been waiting for that confirmation, will request bids from auditors, said William Reinhard, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

The audit — which investigators described as "urgent" — was requested in April as one of the safety recommendations issued by the National Transportation Safety Board. The board's investigators issued recommendations after examining the Nov. 1, 2016, wreck in which school bus driver Glenn Chappell rear-ended a Ford Mustang, crossed into oncoming traffic, then struck a Maryland Transit Administration bus.

The crash killed Chappell and five people on the MTA bus. No students were riding the school bus. Investigators found Chappell had a history of seizures and traffic accidents.

They also found fault with the state Department of Education's system for gathering safety records that could disqualify school bus drivers from their jobs. The investigators requested a comprehensive audit to determine the extent of the lapses.

"Basically, we found something that needs to be addressed as soon as possible," said Keith Holloway, a spokesman for NTSB. "I won't go beyond that."

Holloway said there was no deadline under which the recommendations must be met.

Other recommendations include improvements in record-keeping and internal controls by the city school system, and changes to state regulations concerning driver qualifications. Only the audit was issued as urgent.

A lawsuit seeking more than $10 million has been filed on behalf of the victims. The lawsuit alleges Texas-based health care giant Concentra, which provides commercial driver certifications, overlooked multiple seizures suffered by Chappell when it cleared him to drive.

An attorney representing the victims called it "unacceptable" that the audit has not begun.

"Every day that passes without this audit and without a major overhaul to the system that certifies bus drivers keeps all of us, including our children who ride these buses every school day, at unacceptable levels of risk," attorney Hassan Murphy said.

In the months since the crash, city school officials have said they stepped up checks of driver certifications, reviews of drivers after accidents, training programs for drivers, and the sharing of records between contract bus companies and the district.

tprudente@baltsun.com

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