When Columbia Countys grand jury decided last September to study the school transportation system, few people expected any earth-shattering conclusions.
Now that the grand jury has finished its task, the prediction holds true: The probe found nothing more than a few paperwork problems.
The debate over bus safety began last spring after Aleana Johnson was killed by her bus. Driven by public concern, school officials put together a task force to study ways the transportation system could be made safer.
The task force called for minor procedural changes, better training for drivers, and the hiring of a full-time trainer.
Still, some in the community - particularly, those with ties to Friends of Aleana, the bus-safety group spawned by Aleanas death - were skeptical of the task force because it was formed by school system officials.
The grand jury, however, carries an automatic aura of credibility. Its members formed a committee to study the bus service, and spent weeks combing through records and performing interviews and inspections in schools and county offices.
The result? Although we believe the system is running effectively, there is a need to improve documentation and standardization of procedures.
In other words, the grand jury affirms the school bus system is safe - but the operations paperwork needs fine-tuning.
The report really isnt bad, says Columbia County Associate Superinten-dent Charles Nagle, who oversees the transportation department. There are some things Im surprised showed up in this, but pretty much I have an answer to every one you could pick out.
Among the more important findings are a call for additional bus monitors, especially on buses with younger students; a re-evaluation of the minimum age of drivers; and an automatic drug and alcohol test for drivers involved in any accident.
The latter recommendation is plain common sense; such tests routinely are required by private employers. Under current school system policy, drug and alcohol tests arent required in minor accidents, or ones in which the other driver is clearly at fault. The grand jury has it right.
The two other recommendations are a direct response to the fatal crash: Friends of Aleana also called for more monitors, and raised questions about the bus 21-year-old driver.
Hiring more monitors is a policy choice that falls to the elected school board. And 21 is the legal minimum age for bus drivers; theres no reason to raise that age - unless, again, the school systems elected overseers see fit to do so.
Altogether, the grand jury report is a modest vindication for the county. Nearly half of the recommendations are nothing more than secretarial housecleaning, and the rest lack even the hint of a smoking gun.
Not only did the transportation system come through the lengthy investigation with flying colors, then, but the report also confirms what most parents knew all along: Columbia Countys buses are safe.
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