One child dragged is too many, two is failure

It happened again. A child was dragged down the street, likely terrified, as her bus driver failed to notice her backpack caught in the school bus doors.

And this time the child was only 6 years old. Can you imagine being dragged down the road several hundred feet, desperately holding the straps of your bag to avoid potential injury on the concrete or moving tires of the bus?

Bus drivers are given an immense responsibility as the parents of our community entrust them to safely transport our children to school each day. Not anybody can do that job effectively. You are talking about being required to safely navigate a large vehicle full of precious cargo on the death trap that is U.S. Highway 98, likely while said cargo is doing what children do.

Reading the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office report about the latest incident, it seems like the bus driver was in a hurry and not paying nearly enough attention. The driver closed the door the first time before this little girl could even get off the bus. Doors snapped shut, and he drove off before realizing she was still on board.

Then, he opened the doors for her to get off, but once again snapped them closed too soon, catching the girls backpack and taking her for an unpleasant ride past five or six houses as her siblings chased the bus, screaming. After he freed the child, the driver just left the report says.

This is the second time within a year that a student has been reportedly caught in the door of a Santa Rosa County school bus and dragged down a street. The first dragging occurred right here in Navarre, and it was through our reporting that it was revealed the driver left the scene before law enforcement arrived.

She just drove away, and according to the latest report, so did the driver in this most recent dragging. Student Transportation of America (STA) is the contractor providing this service for our school district. They clearly have a problem. Since it seems this problem has not been resolved, we have some advice for STA and Santa Rosa County School District.

First and foremost, training is needed. In a statement to this newspaper, STA said they would be doing additional “targeted training.” That’s good, but we don’t know the details of that training. STA has been less than transparent.

To do this properly, STA needs to meet with all current and future drivers in an in-person setting to go over safe procedures for students exiting the bus. The policy should be the driver does not close the door until all students have safely cleared the bus and begun moving away from the road. The driver should visually see every student clear a specified distance from the bus and proceed toward their destination off the roadway before the bus is allowed to move on to the next stop. Time consuming? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely.

If it’s already a part of training, great. Do it again. And again, until this is no longer a problem.

Second, regular checks need to be done. Teachers are expected to have random, in class, evaluations by their supervisors. Bus drivers should have the same. Regular ride along evaluations should be conducted to ensure compliance and safety.

And there should also be random auditing of the bus surveillance video, not just when there is an incident. If there is the potential that any action taken while behind the wheel could be and will be reviewed, compliance with safety procedures are more likely. Don’t let drivers fall into or back into old bad habits that could jeopardize students.

Third and finally, to the Santa Rosa County School District, STA has been less than transparent from the beginning of their contract. Based on emergency radio traffic, drivers are calling the main office before they call 911 in a medical emergency, and we have at least two incidents of drivers leaving the scene of a situation where students were put at risk.

The buck for our children’s safety stops with each member of the school board and the superintendent. Ensure changes or find a new contractor. We will hold you accountable for STA’s failings.

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