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Stricter monitoring of bus drivers sought


Published: Tue, February 13, 2007 @ 12:00 a.m.


Police said a Columbus school bus driver was carrying a cocaine-filled syringe as he drove his route.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- The state system for checking bus drivers' backgrounds must be changed after many districts found out some employees had criminal histories, the state's school transportation director said.
The Department of Education is reviewing how districts conduct background checks on drivers and will make a recommendation next month about how to help school districts, said Pete Japikse, the agency's director of pupil transportation.
He told the state Board of Education on Monday that recommendations could include increased oversight from the Department of Education, but he didn't foresee state officials assuming complete responsibility for certification duties that districts typically handle.
Many districts across the state realized they didn't know about drivers' backgrounds after the arrest last month of a Columbus school bus driver who police said was carrying a cocaine-filled syringe as he drove his route. The district then learned that Lawrence Battle had three previous convictions for driving under the influence.
A recent analysis by The Columbus Dispatch of 106 Ohio school districts, Head Start programs and schools for the developmentally disabled found 167 bus drivers with drunken driving or drug convictions.
Battle, charged with cocaine possession, was employed by a private company, Cincinnati-based First Student Inc., that supplied drivers for the public school system. The company later disclosed that it hadn't conducted full criminal background checks.
The last three years
School districts and private companies generally examine the last three years of an applicant's driving record, and state law excludes candidates with too many moving violations or a drunken driving conviction within the past two years.
The Bureau of Motor Vehicles said it will provide schools or companies with a complete driving history upon request, but that most districts only ask for the shorter, three-year records.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol monitors drivers from private companies. The Ohio Department of Education oversees drivers hired directly by school districts, but in those cases the responsibility to make sure candidates pass background screenings and skills tests rests with the individual school systems, Japikse said.
Legislators also are looking at ways to monitor bus drivers.
"We don't have all the answers now. We want to do this right. It may not happen overnight, but it's something we're going to take seriously," said state Sen. Steve Stivers, a Republican from the Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington.
He is considering a plan that would allow the state Bureau of Criminal Identification & amp; Investigation to conduct background checks on drivers more frequently than its current schedule of once a year.


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