Groundbreaking Transportation Safety at West Shore ESD
For school districts and SET SEG, student safety is always top of mind. There are, of course, many factors that play into that safety. Concerns such as facility security and structural maintenance certainly play a role in keeping students safe; however, one of the largest factors contributing to the safety of our students comes from the preparedness of the often-unsung heroes from any school district: bus drivers.
Katrina Morris, Transportation Director for West Shore ESD and Executive Director of the Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation (MAPT) has always recognized this fact. “We have the most safety-sensitive position in our whole entire district,” explains Morris. “Our drivers are the first and last people to see those kids every single day.”
Morris, a former bus driver herself, has spent her career advocating for bus drivers in her district and beyond, recognizing the importance of those roles within every school district. At West Shore ESD, she and her staff worked to develop training and requirements that provide bus drivers with all of the tools necessary to keep students secure. At MAPT, she was able to extend that training to the rest of Michigan public schools, and ultimately, helped to pass legislation mandating it.
Proactive Bus Driver Training
After meeting with the Mason County school safety team, Morris recognized that, while broad safety training and procedures were in place, there was nothing specifically tailored to the unique challenges of transportation departments. Morris and her team subsequently developed courses specific to bus drivers, requiring supervisors and bus drivers to participate in proactive training that helps them identify potential safety issues and act before problems arise. This specialized training addresses, among other things, intruders, and other unauthorized individuals, attempting to board a school bus; a surprisingly common, and dangerous, occurrence.
After successfully enacting these requirements at West Shore ESD, Morris realized that the same issue she encountered in Mason County (limited bus driver-specific safety training) was likely affecting schools across the state.
Leveraging her experience at West Shore ESD, and her position at MAPT, she approached Michigan lawmakers for the funding needed to expand this valuable training to the rest of the state, ultimately securing $810,000 to incorporate proactive training to the curriculum already in place.
Now, part of the mandated training bus drivers and supervisors undergo includes guidance that gives them tools for recognizing and preventing potential threats to their and students’ safety. According to Morris, the training empowers bus drivers to act: “They have more options – when they see something happening, or they’re questioning something, they know that they have a voice to say, ‘what can I do about this?’”
Bus Legislation for Change
Beyond training, Morris and her staff have worked closely with Michigan lawmakers to add multiple pieces of legislation that keep students and drivers safe, such as:
- Passing a stopped school bus with its stop arm extended was already illegal, but now law enforcement is permitted to use camera footage from the bus to enforce the crime.
- Boarding a school bus without permission is now a civil infraction.
- Buses can now feature a sign on the side of the vehicle explaining the penalty for unauthorized entry.
The legislation championed by Morris has resulted in buses across the state being equipped with additional safety features that weren’t present before. Safety features like outside cameras, LED stop signs, and LED bus signs are now commonplace.
We applaud the work Morris and MAPT have done. What started at West Shore ESD has branched out throughout all of Michigan and, in some cases North America, for a solitary reason: it keeps students and drivers safe.
Members of MASB-SEG Property/Casualty Pool all play a role in maintaining the level of security the pool offers. Regardless of the size of the district, or level of employee, we are all contributing to the safety and security of Michigan public schools. That safety often starts and ends with bus drivers.
For more information about current and upcoming bus safety training, as well as general news regarding pupil transportation in the state of Michigan, visit the MAPT website.
All the Pieces of the Puzzle for School Bus Safety
Want to learn more about bus safety? Watch our EduSeries Training video with SET SEG’s Loss Control Representative Jamison Hagerty and West Shore ESD’s Transportation Director Katrina Morris as the walk viewers through the key points of building and maintaining a strong transportation program.