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School district’s bus drivers promote safety throughout year

Friday afternoon, Vicksburg Warren School District buses left the school district’s vehicle maintenance area behind Beechwood Elementary and traveled in a convoy to Sherman Avenue Elementary to call attention to an important issue — school bus safety.

The convoy is an annual event each October for the drivers, and a part of the school district’s observance of School Bus Safety Week, which ended Friday. But Robert Bass, transportation director for the school district, said the emphasis on safety isn’t limited to just one week.

“This is something we practice every day,” he said, “We’re very careful on our speeds in speed zones, school zones we try to obey all the traffic regulations in regards to school buses and procedures at pickup points on school campuses.”

And that includes precautions against COVID-19.

“We social distance as much as possible on the school bus,” Bass said. “Some routes don’t allow us to social distance as much as we would like; there are more children returning to the building (school). Our load procedure has changed some; the first student (on the bus) goes to the very back of the bus, and when we unload is the very last to get off the bus.”

The loading process, Bass said, is to lessen the chance of spreading the disease if there is a sick child on the bus so that the child is not passing any other children when the bus unloads.

He said the buses are required to carry sanitation supplies, hand sanitizers and spare facemasks for children in case they forget their masks.

Bass said the children have been very cooperative wearing their masks.

“The first days (of school) it was hard,” he said. “They would get on the bus and take them off. As time goes by they’ve gotten very used to them. It’s working out well.” He said signs are located in several areas on the bus reminding students to wear their masks.

Bass, who has been with the school district’s transportation department for 40 years, and its director for the past seven years, started as a bus driver. He said things have changed significantly since he drove.

“All buses were standard shift buses and there was no airconditioning. Pay, I think, was $15 a day. Now drivers make $15 an hour,” he said. “Now, we have automatic (transmission) diesel buses and a lot of them have air conditioning.”

And there are more safety features on the buses.

One is a “no child left behind” device that alerts the driver to check the bus after it’s unloaded to make sure no child is still on board.

“Once we unload that bus we have to go back and check the bus,” Bass said. “It gives the driver an opportunity to check the seats and make sure the students haven’t left anything on the bus.”

Some buses have cameras on their exterior to record cars passing the bus when it is stopped and the warning signs are out.

Bass said the drivers have two-way communication with the school district.

“At no point are we where we cannot contact our drivers about inclement weather, or road conditions,” Bass said. “We are in contact with school resource officers; anytime there’s a problem they can contact the necessary personnel and we have a good relationship with the Vicksburg Police Department and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office.”

Bass said the drivers are assisted by bus monitors whose job is to keep order on the bus so the driver can watch the traffic.

“We have safety meetings with the bus driver and monitors to reinforce safety regulation,” Bass said. “The drivers and monitors work together as far as conduct and keeping students safe on the bus.”

But the most important piece of equipment on the bus isn’t mechanical — it’s human.

“The driver has a great responsibility. The driver’s main responsibility is to get the children to and from school as safe as possible,” Bass said.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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