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January-February, 2008

Laws will necessitate changes in bus policy

Kimberly A. Small, assistant general counsel for IASB, answers the question for this issue.

Question: We provide school bus transportation for our students. With all the new public acts concerning school bus transportation, what do we need to do with our policies and procedures?

Answer: Three new school bus transportation laws affect school districts that provide busing for students; some of the new requirements hinge upon whether the school district owns its buses or contracts for bus service. Sample policy and procedure language designed to meet the requirements of this legislation was included in the October 2007 issue of PRESS. Here is a short synopsis of who should do what:

Strobe lights

Already in effect, 625 ILCS 5/12-815, added by P.A. 95-319, now states that a school bus driver may illuminate the bus strobe light any time that students are aboard the bus, as opposed to when the bus is stopped or moving very slowly with students aboard. School boards may want to direct, through policy, that their administrators implement procedures for illumination of bus strobe lights at any time a bus is transporting students.

Erratic driving reports

By January 1, 2008, school bus owners must establish procedures for accepting erratic driving reports, which shall include an internal investigation of the events leading to the complaint as well as a report to the complaining party on the results of the investigation and any action taken. (625 ILCS 5/12-821, as amended by P.A. 95-176)

This means districts owning school buses must follow the procedural requirements set forth in the new Act for accepting erratic driving reports.

IASB suggests immediate action by school boards in districts that own buses to amend their busing policies. Our sample policy directs the superintendent to establish procedures for accepting erratic driving reports in accordance with state law. The sample procedure follows the minimum requirements set forth in the Act and assumes the district is the owner of school buses. Of course, the school bus owners may always require additional steps above the minimum requirements.

School boards of districts that contract out their buses may want to set policy directing the superintendent to establish procedures for communication with their contracted school bus owners to ensure their contractors have these required procedures in place.

This new Act also requires each school bus operated in Illinois to have a telephone number displayed on the rear of the bus to report erratic driving. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), Division of Traffic Safety, which establishes standards for construction and maintenance of school buses, is currently in the process of promulgating rules regarding appropriate signage and its placement on buses. Those rules will be located at 92 Ill.AdminCode sections 440-3 when the rulemaking process is finalized. When the rules will be finalized is unknown at this time, but IDOT issued a letter to school bus operators on September 5, 2007, detailing the letter size requirements and where the signs should be located on the bus.

Post-trip vehicle inspection

By January 1, 2008, 625 ILCS 5/12-816, as amended by P.A. 95-260, requires that school districts have a post-trip vehicle inspection policy to ensure that the drivers are the last persons leaving the school vehicle. If the district uses a private sector company, then the district must require in its contract that the private sector company have a post-trip inspection procedure in place.

Here again, IASB suggests immediate action by all school boards to ensure that an adopted post-trip vehicle inspection policy exists.

IASB's sample policy directs the superintendent to develop and implement a post-trip inspection procedure. The sample procedure follows the procedure prescribed in the new state law: school bus drivers must perform a visual sweep of the school bus for sleeping children at the end of a route, work shift or workday by: 1) activating the interior lights of the bus to assist the driver in seeing in and under each seat, and 2) walking to the rear of the school bus/vehicle checking in and under each seat.

School officials reviewing and making these policy and procedure changes should discuss all questions with their legal counsel to ensure they comply with all of the new requirements of these new acts affecting bus transportation.

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