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Do you know who drives the bus your child takes to school?

Posted at 5:09 PM, Nov 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-07 23:37:00-05

Do you know who drives the bus your child takes to school? Depending on the district, that might be private information.

We asked ten area school districts on both sides of the state line for information on who drives the buses.

Four districts, who employ their own drivers, gave us a list of their drivers’ names.

The remaining six districts have contracts with a private company to provide most or all of their bus service and drivers.

*St. Joseph School District employs some drivers for special education students in the district and provided those driver names. District officials say the rest of the drivers are employed by a private company.

 

Many of these districts told us while they have access to that information, they don't keep lists of the driver's names.

They said the bus companies including First Student Inc., Durham School Services, and Apple Bus Company keep those records.

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“The employer is First Student,” said Erin Dugan, assistant superintendent of general administration with Olathe Public Schools. “They’re the ones that maintain that list.”

“They’re not our employees,” said Jason Gillam, assistant director of business operations for Blue Valley Schools.

When asked whether that should be public information, Gillam responded “I think that’s a question for Durham.”

“That is a big concern,” said Mike Kautsch. A professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, who also serves as a board member for the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government. “The reliance on outsourcing and use of third parties, that has put the public in the dark."

Kautsch explained how the names of bus drivers hired by bus companies could be kept private.

KANSAS BUS DRIVER CONVICTED

Last week, a Texas jury convicted former Kansas school bus driver Kelly Shane Hooper of possessing child pornography. He now faces a sentence of more than fifty years in prison.

Hooper was arrested in Topeka on Sunday May 3, 2015. The district attorney's office in Coryell County, Texas said when Hooper learned police had his hard drive, he fled the state and got a job as a school bus driver in Kansas. The district attorney also said Hooper later confessed to downloading additional child pornography while in Kansas.

Kelly Shane Hooper's mugshot from The Topeka Capital-Journal

 

But when news of his arrest in Topeka broke, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that Topeka Public Schools referred questions to Durham, the company contracted to provide bus service and drivers.

A Durham spokesperson later confirmed to them that Durham had hired Hooper in April 2015 and a background check had not revealed a criminal record. The Coryell County District Attorney's Office told 41 Action News arrest warrants for Hooper were not issued until May 2015.

But Monday, the day after his arrest, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported that neither the school district nor Durham would confirm if Hooper drove their students.

We asked Misty Kruger with Topeka Public Schools if the delay of information was acceptable.

Molly Hart, a spokesperson for Durham, told 41 Action News, “I shared with the reporter that we were taking the matter seriously and investigating.  On Tuesday I sent the reporter our statement. I take my job seriously and it is my goal to always respond within 24 hours."

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BACKGROUND CHECKS

The Kansas Department of Education does not require a criminal background check for school bus drivers. A spokesperson said that is a decision left to the districts. Requirements do include school bus drivers signing a statement regarding their criminal history, driving record and having the proper license.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education does require all school bus drivers to have background checks through the Missouri Highway Patrol and FBI, as well as other requirements.

School bus drivers in the Independence School District, North Kansas City Schools, Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, St. Joseph School District, and Kansas City Public Schools would be subject to these requirements regardless if the district or a private company employs them.

Officials from Topeka Public Schools and Durham School Services gave us a joint statement stating a third party gives bus driver applicants criminal and driving record checks, as well as a national sex offender search. They say the drivers’ checks go back ten years as well as receiving annual criminal and driving record checks.

While Blue Valley Schools district officials who contract Durham School Services told us they don’t keep records of the driving and criminal background checks their contract states their drivers must receive, they do say the district can “perform an internal random sampling audit” of Durham’s employee files at any time to make sure the proper checks are being done.

Other districts including Olathe Public Schools also said while they don’t keep records of drivers’ background checks, they do have access to them through the bus company that serves their students.

"If the school district requests information regarding an individual driver, we are given immediate access to vital information about that driver and background check," said Maggie Kolb with Olathe Public Schools. "First Student is contractually obligated to provide background checks on all of its drivers."

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First Student Inc. contracts with Kansas City Public Schools in Missouri as well as Olathe Public Schools and the Shawnee Mission School District. A First Student Inc. spokesperson told us that each driver must first get a federal, state, and local background check before getting hired. They say those include a driving and criminal history as well as drug screenings before getting the job and randomly during employment.

“We realize the tremendous amount of trust parents place in us every day to provide safe and reliable transportation, which is why First Student invests in our drivers,” said Jen Biddinger, corporate communications manager with First Student Inc.

Curt Roberts, the director of transportation for Kansas City Public Schools, said in a statement that while the district does have a roster of their school bus drivers, they do not hold copies of the drivers' background checks. 

"All school bus contractor drivers and monitors, prior to service with KCPS, must submit to a background check as required by contract and criteria set forth by the State of Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Missouri Department of Revenue," he said. "By contract, KCPS has access to all contract-applicable school bus contractor staff employee records.  Records are reviewed as requested by KCPS."

We requested the district's list of drivers, but our request was denied.

Apple Bus Company employs school bus drivers that drive St. Joseph School District students. A spokesperson for Apple Bus Company told us the company complies with state regulations. Drivers submit fingerprints and agree to background checks through the Missouri Highway Patrol and FBI.

School bus drivers for Kansas City Kansas Public Schools must undergo background checks that include criminal and driving history, according to a district official. They say the driving history is checked each year on all drivers, as well as randomly throughout the year.

RELATED | Kansas City school bus company owner has history of financial problems

ACCOUNTABILITY

Despite describing their various background checks performed, Kautsch describes the danger in names of school bus drivers not being subject to open records laws.

Kautsch said children may be at risk and he would like to see the law change.

”There is no independent assurance,” he said. “No way that the news media or anyone else can check and make sure that the promise to the public is being fulfilled.”

Many school districts did tell us that parents could call and ask for the name of their child’s school bus driver. If you call and ask, let 41 Action News know what happens.

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Lindsay Shively can be reached at lindsay.shively@kshb.com.

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