The Vernon Parish School Board has reviewed and adopted several recommendations by the transportation committee concerning bus alarms.


The Vernon Parish School Board has reviewed and adopted several recommendations by the transportation committee concerning bus alarms.
According to Transportation Director James Williams, the school board placed child alarm systems on parish busses about 7-8 years ago. The alarms serve to remind bus drivers to do post-trip inspections and help ensure that children don't get left on the busses.
Current school board policy requires all drivers to perform a post trip inspection, said Williams.  Any driver who fails to do the inspection which results in a child being left on a school bus is suspended for a minimum of 60 days without pay for the first offense, with a full investigation by the board to determince if further action is needed.
If a child is left on a bus and the alarm is not working, then the driver is terminated. The intent behind the policy is to deter those who would intentionally interfere with the function of the alarm.
The second offense results in immediate termination.
 "I think we need to talk about or propose how to monitor the alarms," said Williams. "Our drivers are doing a pretty good job of this. I think we can help them by monitoring the alarms."
The discussion comes after an incident earlier in the year involving a kindergarten student being left on a school bus in the Evans school district. The child's mother, in an interview with the Leader, said the girl pushed the bus doors open to get off of the bus after the bus driver had parked the bus at her residence. The mother said the girl had been attacked by dogs and had somehow made her way to a rural road before a friend of the family happened by.
Superintendent of Schools Jackie Self confirmed shortly after the incident that a child had been left on a bus and that the school board is handling the situation as its policy directs. He added that he was intent on ensuring the safety of the district's children.
To that end, Williams presented a number of recommendations to the board's transportation committee recently to help ensure that the child alarms remain in working order.
The idea behind the alarms is that the driver must physically walk to the back of the bus to disarm the alarm, which sounds after the stop arm is engaged and the ignition is turned off.
Williams said one issue to be addressed is the maintenance of the alarms. The school board had no real policy in place to check that the alarms were in working order. Williams suggested adding checking the alarms to the list of requirements to fulfill for the regular bus inspections. In addition, the alarms can be inspected during the child evacuation drills performed twice annually and random checks could be performed at each school.
"It only takes one instance for a major accident to occur," said Randi Gleason, District 1, and chairperson of the transportation committee.
The board, on motion of the transportation committee, adopted all three recommendations, with the understanding that guidelines on the random checks would be created and that Williams would also create a new checklist.
At least one bus driver thought the problem had yet to be solved.
"I don't think you addressed the problem completely," said Kathy Jarrell, a local bus driver.
According to Jarrell and Wanda Leach, president of the local school bus association, drivers often arrive at school before the drop off time, which requires them to wait some minutes before unloading children. Rather than have the bus idle during that time, drivers kill their engines and have a student disarm the alarm. Once the bus is started back up, if the stop arm is not engaged before the bus is shut off again, which is often the case, the alarm will not sound.
Thus, when some drivers arrive at their destination, the alarm doesn't always sound.
Williams said that in the case he knew of when a child was left on a bus, the driver did not do a post trip inspection or turn off the alarm, but had someone else do it. However, according to the policy, the driver is responsible for the inspection.