Driver shortage prompts Upshur BOE discussion

TENNERTON — A shortage of substitute school bus drivers has prompted the Upshur County Board of Education to discuss potentially revising its policy for curricular and extracurricular bus trips.

School Superintendent Roy Wager recently said several school systems are experiencing the shortage.

“Harrison County, they’re in the same boat we are, and I know that because I’ve seen it myself that a lot of the events that are in the evening, they will bring the athletes over and drop them off, go back and do their run and then come back and get them — which I can imagine is probably getting expensive,” Wager said during a recent BOE meeting. “We haven’t done that yet.”

The current Upshur County policy prohibits the transportation of participants of curricular and extracurricular activities by a private vehicle. With the current policy, parents and guardians are only allowed to transport their child and one other with written permission.

“We do have certain sports that you only have six, seven kids … where we take a bus to Fairmont or to a golf course, and we take a whole bus for six kids and a coach,” he said about the current policy.

However, with situations like that, the board is looking at ways to adjust the policy should there be unavailable drivers.

Wager explained the proposed revised policy could ease requirements on who can transport students to extracurricular activities. With written permission granted, the revised policy would allow a parent/guardian to transport up to 10 students to curricular or extracurricular events in a privately owned vehicle.

Even if the proposed revision does pass, Wager stressed, a bus will be used whenever possible.

Assistant Superintendent Jack Reger concurred.

“Our first goal and priority is to always have a bus available for students … the regular bus runs take priority over everything, and we want our bus drivers to transport our kids, but there’s not enough substitute (drivers),” said Reger.

Because liability concerns arose during discussion of the first reading, Reger commented extracurricular activities are a privilege and not a right.

“So if parents choose to drive kids and let their kids ride with other parents, that’s the parents’ decision and responsibility,” he said.

During the second reading of the proposed revision on Tuesday evening, a comment sheet was included in the board members’ agenda packet.

Bus operator Bill Groggs expressed concerned and claimed the proposed change to the policy was “a mistake.”

In the policy comment sheet, Groggs wrote, “Please do no pass this policy change in what I believe is a knee jerk reaction to a temporary situation.”

Groggs noted that three people are currently in training and “as soon as they are, another class will be started.”

He also expressed safety concerns should the policy be revised.

“You are giving permission to take children out of the safest mode of transportation in the world (according to statistics) and putting them in something, driven by a non-professional driver, that people are maimed and killed in every day,” Groggs wrote. “It is my belief that a board of education is to be held liable for the safety of all students that are involved in school-sponsored activities, including their transportation to and from such activities.”

Superintendent Wager said he believed that Groggs’ interpretation of the proposed revision was that parents and guardians would be allowed to transport students any time.

“And that’s not the idea. The idea is because we don’t have enough substitutes and sometimes there’s so many things going on we just can’t cover them all,” said Wager. “So in those emergencies, then this would give school the opportunity to have a signed formed from the parents saying I give permission or I will drive my kid or I would be willing to drive another child, and the parents have to have all those turned in or they don’t go.”

The third reading of the proposed policy revision will take place at the next Board of Education meeting, scheduled at 7 p.m. Jan. 23 at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.