Some Baltimore City Council members urged the state education department on Monday to expedite an audit of the city school bus system following last year’s deadly crash in Southwest Baltimore.
Federal investigators requested an urgent audit of the system last April to screen city school bus drivers after six people died in the Nov. 1, 2016 wreck. Three weeks into the new school year, city officials say they’re still anxiously waiting for the audit to begin.
“This audit should’ve commenced before the last school year finished or at the very latest, over the summer,” City Councilman Zeke Cohen said. “Now we’re back into the school year and they still haven’t selected a firm to complete the audit.”
Cohen, along with other city officials, community members and Baltimore students, gathered for a news conference Monday at the site of the crash on Frederick Road in the Irvington neighborhood.
The Maryland State Department of Education expects to finalize a contract this week for the audit of the bus system, spokesman Bill Reinhard said.
Once details are finalized, the auditors will have to submit a preliminary report by Oct. 31.
Cohen said he hopes the state board sticks to that timeline, as he was told previously the audit would kick off sooner than it has.
“We can not sweep this under the rug,” he said. “The lives of our children are too important.”
The National Transportation Safety Board requested the audit as one of several safety recommendations issued in response to the crash. School bus driver Glenn Chappell rear-ended a Ford Mustang before crossing into oncoming traffic and slamming into a Maryland Transit Administration bus.
No children were riding the school bus, but Chappell and five people on the MTA bus were killed in the wreck. Investigators later learned that Chappell had a history of seizures and traffic accidents.
They also identified problems with the state’s system for gathering safety records that could disqualify school bus drivers from their jobs.
The audit will review whether students are being transported in compliance with state and federal regulations, and will recommend corrective measures if necessary. Auditors will also review driver and vehicle records to determine if they are also in compliance.
“We need drivers that are able to safely get our kids to and from school,” Cohen said. “Our kids deserve nothing less.”
In the months after the crash, city schools officials said, they stepped up reviews of drivers after accidents, training programs for drivers and checks of driver certifications, among other safety precautions.