2013-02-21 / News

Safety concerns have bus drivers banning larger instruments

Final decision made by each driver’s discretion
BY MARGO SULLIVAN

After some school bus drivers refused to allow children to bring their musical instruments aboard, the bus company provided the school district with a written policy that explains the rules, said Ken Duva, director of student services.

First Student’s Jen Biddinger said the drivers will allow band instruments that fit safely in a backpack or on a student’s lap. Also, instruments that can sit on an empty seat without protruding into the aisle or blocking an emergency exit will be permitted.

She went on to say the student must not need assistance to load and unload the instrument safely, and that the decision to allow instruments on board is ultimately left to the driver’s discretion.

Biddinger said the policy was companywide and had been in place for “a while.”

According to Duva, the policy is being sent home to parents with children in the Jamestown schools.

The one-page statement also says the drivers will “make every reasonable accommodation” for the children who want to bring their band instruments on the bus. They will be fair and consistent with their decisions, according to the memo.

Duva said parents started to complain in October about some bus drivers who were not allowing the band instruments, and the issue came as a surprise.

“A few parents contacted me last fall,” he said. According to Duva, it started to become apparent there was an issue because some of the drivers were allowing children to take musical instruments on the bus, but some drivers were not.

First Student, headquartered in Cincinnati, has provided transportation to both Jamestown public schools for three years, and this year was the first time anyone reported a problem about bringing band instruments to school.

“It surprised me,” said Duva. “It was not a problem last year.”

Duva contacted First Student and asked why some drivers were having an issue, and others weren’t. Specifically, he said, he inquired about which instruments were not being allowed on the buses, and he also conducted a survey to assess which buses were at capacity and might not have room for carry-on instruments.

Duva said Jamestown school buses can carry 71 passengers, so if 70 students were aboard, there might not be room for children to put band instruments on the empty seats.

But most of the buses are running below capacity, he said.

First Student told him the paramount concern was always safety.

“It’s all about safety,” he said, and added the drivers ultimately have to make the determination about whether the instrument poses a danger to the passengers.

In December, Duva discussed the problem about the band instruments and the bus drivers at the school improvement team meeting. Parent Albert Gamble said he dropped by the meeting and specifically wanted to ask if the district had any policy to cover musical instruments on the bus.

“I’m the one who started this whole thing,” he said. According to Gamble, five or six other parents shared his concerns about the bus drivers who are not allowing the children to take their band instruments on board.

Gamble said the youngsters should be able to take the band instruments on the bus, and it should not matter if they play the piccolo or a trumpet.

Lois and Bill Pierce said the drivers have always allowed their son to bring his instrument on the bus, but he plays a small instrument, which fits in a case roughly the size of a briefcase.

Their son heard about the controversy at school from other children who were talking about the bus drivers.

They have also heard the bus drivers are not allowing children who play the larger instruments like trombones on the bus, and there have been rumors about drivers upset with children who disrupted the ride home by playing their instruments.

Gamble said he had heard about discipline problems on some of the buses and worried some of the drivers might be using the safety issue to punish some children. His daughter plays trombone, and he has been driving her to school on days she needed to travel with her horn. But some parents are not able to change their schedules and take the youngsters to school.

“For some parents, it’s just impossible,” he said.

He is taking a wait-and-see attitude about whether First Student’s policy will end the problem.

“I don’t know if I’m satisfied,” he said. He figures he will find out after school vacation when he sees if the driver will allow his daughter to board the bus with her trombone.

Gamble said he has encouraged his daughter to become “the Rosa Parks” for band instruments and attempt to board with her trombone. But according to Gamble, his daughter didn’t feel comfortable about protesting.

“She was a little bit intimidated,” he said.

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