Reports: Area schools systems with unsatisfactory bus inspection - WNCT

Reports: Area schools systems with unsatisfactory bus inspections

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TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL) -

Kids will soon be heading back to school on one of hundreds of school buses in the region.

It's often a scary thing for a parent to give up control and put their child on a vehicle that is not their own, so we were curious just how safe those school buses are for our kids.

News Channel 11 pulled the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security school bus inspection records for a one year period between May of 2012 and May of 2013. We found some school systems have a lot more violations than others.

These are the school systems in our area with the most violations:

But, News Channel 11 learned those numbers could be misleading. We found out what the numbers can tell you about our kids' safety, and how this story is leading to changes in the way the state inspects school buses.

Virginia VanDyke no longer allows her kids to ride school buses in Hawkins County. VanDyke said the buses are constantly breaking down, and she just does not feel her kids are safe on them.

"We have had buses to break down, and our kids aren't home on time, and the schools don't call and tell us what is up," said VanDyke. "Something needs to be done, the current plan they have isn't working."

School bus inspection records from the state added fuel to her fire. According to those records, Hawkins County had the highest number of violations over a one year period among all the school systems in our region.

"I'm just...that flabbergasts me," said VanDyke.

The Director of Schools in Hawkins County, Charlotte Britton, said those numbers are misleading and the buses are safe.

"All of our buses do meet the qualifications before they are on the road in the fall," said Britton.

Britton said her five school bus maintenance workers do pre-trip maintenance inspections on the school systems 110 school buses every day. However, when the THP came to inspect between May of 2012 and May of 2013, they found 209 unsatisfactory violations.

"I feel confident that those issues were taken care of when the buses were on the road," said Britton.

Britton has a point. The state confirms that three of the buses in Hawkins County were pulled off the road in January of this year after 15 years on the road.

"If it goes over 200,000 miles, it would have to be pulled off at the 15th year," said Lieutenant Ray Robinson, Director of Pupil Transportation for the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (TDSHS).

At that point, they were given to the state to inspect.

TDSHS rules required they mark every item on the safety check list as unsatisfactory for each of those buses, even though the buses were not being used.

That means Hawkins County actually had roughly 41 violations on buses they were using.

"They are presently talking about changing their forms so an inactive bus would not actually go through an inspection," said Britton.

"The school bus is the safest vehicle on the road bar none," said Lt. Robinson.

He said most often the violations found during annual inspections are not serious.

"Most of the time they correct it when we're there because truly there's not that serious issues found most of the time with school buses," said Lt. Robinson.

Still, school bus inspectors like Vernon Thomas are looking for 100% compliance.

"That doesn't show up in the data as to what went wrong...it could be something severe or something very common," said Thomas.

And, even minor violations mean a bus will be taken out of service until the problem is fixed.

"By far most of the things we find are electrical problems like lights, and we have most of those problems fixed in 15 minutes," said Thomas.

Still, VanDyke said no matter how minor the maintenance issue, she expects the school system's maintenance department to catch it, and fix it ASAP, so she can feel comfortable putting her kids back on the buses.

School Systems with unsatisfactory school bus inspections (May 2012 –May 2013)
(Click on the links below to see a report for each of the school systems.)

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