Bus drivers make the grade
School bus drivers are responsible for transporting cargo of the most precious kind – your children.
Lake Tahoe Unified School District’s transportation department takes that responsibility seriously.
“When a driver starts driving a bus for us, they’ve gone through a lot of training,” District Facilities Director Steve Morales said. “Much of it is on their own time, at their own expense and they’re not even at that time guaranteed work.”
Gloria Helms, district transportation supervisor, is a certified school bus driver trainer.
A former teacher, counselor and school administrator, Helms gave up retirement and took a job as a school bus driver.
“I saw an advertisement for a bus driver and I love kids. I love driving and I thought, ‘This is for me,’ so I did it,” Helms said.
After spending time as a substitute driver, Helms was hired for a permanent position. She later took on the role of training future drivers.
She attended an intense, three-week training program in Sacramento, where she said she learned everything and anything pertinent to school buses.
“From pupil management to training employees, I learned it all,” Helms said. “The training for our drivers is also all encompassing and very intense.”
Becoming a school bus driver is no easy task, according to Helms and Morales.
The first part of the training involves a minimum of 20 hours in the classroom. Using manuals from the California Highway Patrol and the state department of education, potential drivers study rules, regulations, student management and much more.
After completing the classroom section of the course, trainees must pass four written tests to get a class B commercial driver’s license. Next, they must take two written tests, a first aid test and two driving tests, given by the California Highway Patrol.
Once drivers have received a CHP school bus driver certificate, the Lake Tahoe Unified School District puts them behind the wheel for 20 plus hours of school bus driving training with Helms.
FBI background checks, drug testing and fingerprinting are performed before any driver is hired.
“We’re not going to put them with kids unless we feel they’re very safe,” Helms said. “They have to have a clean, clean driving record and we check back 10 years. We are not going to put anybody on those buses we are not comfortable with. I would rather be short a driver than put someone questionable in that seat. The safety of our children is of the utmost importance to all of us.”
If hired, drivers are retested and evaluated on their performance annually. There also is a specialized training program for drivers who will be taking kids off the hill for field trips.
Because school buses do not have seat belts, some people feel the safety of students is compromised.
According to Morales, the interior design of school buses allows protection without seat belts.
“The industry has always felt they provided the safest protection for students by the actual school bus enclosure,” he said. “The engineering of energy absorption by equipping buses with padded interior and padded side rails helps. The backs of the seats also have been engineered so they will provide a certain amount of give if a head-on collision occurs.”
Morales said the size and volume of school buses is also beneficial, and added there have not been any serious injuries on Lake Tahoe Unified school buses for more than 15 years.
Both Helms and Morales said knowing they play a role in keeping South Shore’s children safe serves as a major source of motivation.
“Like so many other people working in schools, you just want to make a difference and we have got a great set of drivers here doing that,” Morales said. “I can’t stress that enough.”
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