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Be aware, school buses take to the road beginning Monday

Buses line the bus-only lane for dropping off students on the first day of school at Coyote Springs Elementary School in 2009.<br>
TribFile/Sue Tone

Buses line the bus-only lane for dropping off students on the first day of school at Coyote Springs Elementary School in 2009.<br> TribFile/Sue Tone

Bus drivers are practicing their routes this week with no passengers, but drivers on the road should be aware the buses will be packed with children come Monday, Aug. 5.

Humboldt Unified School District bus drivers are running through their routes this week, said Kim Porter, director of transportation. She has reviewed and analyzed all the routes, expanding or consolidating where needed.

The first week or two, parents like to drive children to school in their own vehicles. Once students begin riding the bus, however, they must carry a bus pass, something new this year.

"The bus pass has the student's name, route and phone number. This is important especially for the kindergartners," Porter said, adding that the pass, which uses colored symbols that match those posted in the bus windows, can be attached to the child's backpack.

In the future, the district may use a ZPass program that works off a GPS system and scanners, Porter said.

Transportation representatives will be at all HUSD schools during Meet the Teachers events on Aug. 1 and 2 to help parents with bus stop information and bus passes.

Student safety

Another district safety program is the "sleeping child alarm" (for newer buses) and the Bus Empty sign used to remind the driver to check each seat at the end of his or her route.

"When drivers turn off the bus, they have 60 seconds to go to the back and turn off the alarm. They check the seats for 'no child left behind,'" she said.

Drivers of the older buses use a Bus Empty sign. At the end of every run, they put the sign in the rear window checking each seat as they go. Porter said Department of Public Service also requires drivers to sweep and clean their bus at the end of the day, which also allows them to check row by row for sleeping children.

Driver training

The district employs six trainers and three third-party testers for the state. HUSD trains its own drivers and those for some of the smaller districts such as Ash Fork, Kirkland Junction and Seligman.

Before receiving their license and Arizona School Bus Driver Certification, drivers undergo specialized classroom and behind-the-wheel training. They also take part in annual training and monthly safety meetings.

Training includes student loading/unloading procedures, evacuation, behavior and security management, and emergency medical procedures, including CPR, first aid and AED (Automatic External Defibrillator).

In addition, all school bus drivers are required to participate in random and post-accident drug and alcohol testing, undergo frequent driving record checks, and pass periodic medical exams to ensure they are physically qualified. All drivers must pass background checks prior to employment.

DPS conducts annual inspections of each of the 70 buses. Porter said the district received only seven minor violations at its June inspection.

"We staff some of the finest mechanics in the industry," she said.

Rider rules and procedures

Students are only allowed to exit the bus at their assigned stop. If a student is going home with another student or needs to get off at a different bus stop, the parent or guardian needs to write a note to the school and an administrator needs to sign off. The note is then attached to the bus pass. 

A parent or responsible party must be present at the bus stop five minutes prior to drop off time in order for the driver to drop off kindergarten students.

Disorderly conduct or refusing to respect the authority of the school bus driver is sufficient reason to deny the student transportation. The driver may assign seats.

Rules include basic safety directions such as stay seated at all times while bus is moving; keep hands, arms and head inside bus at all times; keep center aisle clear while bus is moving; no eating or drinking on bus; no throwing of any object; and hands off others.

Bus drivers receive training to manage student behavior and are partnering with school administrators to address any bullying issue. All HUSD school buses are equipped with cameras to help with identification and resolution of problems.

Drivers still needed

Porter said a bus driver's schedule works for many people, as there is down time between morning and afternoon runs. The district tries to give drivers 6-8 hours per day.

While attending the 44-hour training course and during ride-alongs, drivers receive $7.80 per hour. Once they are trained and driving with students on board, the pay goes up to $10.78 per hour.

Those seeking more information may call the district's trainers at 928-759-5196.

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