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Hold Washington County Schools accountable for bus safety

Johnson City Press • Aug 8, 2018 at 8:15 AM

To call Washington County’s school bus oversight in recent years lacking would be a gross understatement. Abysmal would be more accurate.

A recent state report revealed exactly what parents had feared — the school district was fully or partially deficient in standards set by the state Department of Education.

Alarm bells should have gone off six years ago when a driver crashed her bus full of David Crockett High School students after speeding down a curvy road at 58 mph. The bus rolled twice, injuring 27 students, some of them seriously. A student later testified that driver Brenda Gray asked the students if they wanted to lose their stomachs as they went over a hill.

But it took two more major incidents in the same week this year for the county to get more serious about control measures in student transportation.

On the afternoon of Feb. 27, driver Lanty Ross Lindley fell asleep at the wheel, sending his bus into a tree on Cherokee Mountain Road. While the crash was not as serious as the 2012 incident, four students were treated for injuries at a local hospital. Less than a day later, Jonesborough police arrested a different driver, Jackie Adams, as she drove 23 students to school, charging her with DUI and reckless endangerment.

In the wake of the consecutive incidents, administrators fired transportation supervisor Randy Adams after learning no drivers had been tested for drugs or alcohol since 2014.

As Staff Writer Jessica Fuller reported in Saturday’s edition, state Director of Transportation Tammy Knipp conducted an onsite, unannounced compliance monitoring report a month after the crash at the administration’s request. The result was a report highlighting such shortcomings in record-keeping as random drug tests, safety complaints, driver documentation, a formal driver training program and detailed documentation on manufacturer service. It concluded with 10 recommended actions, including updates on policy and official procedures for drivers and other student transportation staff.

Jarrod Adams, the school district’s special projects manager, told Fuller the administration worked to correct the issues over the summer, and a follow-up report completed last week showed progress in bookkeeping.

After a follow-up visit, the state recommended an official school bus driver training program for new drivers to meet state minimum standards, as well as maintenance of driver training, driver credentials and bus maintenance and inspection reports.

School buses are back on the county’s highways and backroads this week with the start of the school year. Parents should be encouraged that the state has gotten involved and that the school district has new leadership. The administration has restructured the transportation department with a new supervisor and a separate maintenance supervisor.

As we stated in March, finding the right drivers is no easy task, given the odd hours, low pay and stresses of managing buses full of children.

But the fact that the measures outlined in the state’s reports — particularly drug testing and training accountability — were not in place prior to the recent serious safety infractions is unconscionable.

It’s imperative that the Washington County Board of Education and the district’s administration make sure bus riders are safer and that parents hold them accountable in the process.

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