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Madison bus drivers trained for safety, Jackson says

Published 8:53pm Monday, February 4, 2013

School safety concerns turned a different page on Jan. 28 when Jimmy Lee Dykes murdered school bus driver Charles Poland Jr. and abducted five-year-old Ethan in Midland City, Ala.

How are bus drivers for Madison City Schools prepared to handle emergencies?

Transportation specialist Bobby Jackson said 62 buses carry 4,700 to 5,000 Madison students daily.

“Once students are on the bus, it’s still part of the school. The bus is like a classroom,” Jackson said. Principals continue to monitor situations.

Federal law prohibits an adult boarding a school bus. Violators face a fine or a 30-day jail sentence, Jackson said. “I’ve had one person put in jail — a student who entered a bus going after another student.”

“I had rather deal with an irate parent with the bus door being slammed in their face than what happened in Midland City,” Jackson said.

All buses have radios in contact with the transportation department on Westchester Drive. A route specialist, the garage and Jackson also have radios.

If trouble arises, bus drivers have a keyword. “They can punch the radio with their knee and say that word,” Jackson said. Madison Police Department then is notified. “We can get police to them really quickly.”

To qualify as bus driver, candidates must complete three-day training with the state department and pass a driving test.

Annually, drivers must complete a four-hour class with the state. In addition, Madison City Schools requires annual re-certification with eight hours of training.

Jackson noted many motorists fail to stop when the bus driver opens the Stop sign. Traffic must stop in both directions. “Drivers get tag numbers to turn into to police,” he said. Violators will go to court, facing a $150 fine.

“After students leave school, safety is the primary concern,” Jackson said. “We talk to our bus drivers about paying attention to the surroundings and to look ahead. Once kids are let off, drivers look for strange cars watching the bus and will take tag numbers and get police involved.”

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