An updated school transportation policy spelling out eligibility and expectations for student bus ridership could be formally adopted by month’s end.
A draft of the policy, last revised in 2013, was presented to the school committee last week before being tabled for a second reading on Jan. 27.
According to school board member Richard Pearson, who collaborated on the draft with fellow member Brent Ruter, the new version focuses on transportation safety practices, especially those involving younger students.
In keeping with past practice, the policy reaffirms that transportation is provided to all kindergarten students, as well as those in grades 1-12 living more than one mile from their assigned school, with bus routes determined to maximize efficiency and safety.
It’s clear that kindergartners merit special consideration, however. For example, the policy requires kindergartners to wear name tags early in the school year which drivers can cross-reference against route sheets.
The new policy also forbids drivers from dropping off kindergarten students unless a parent or caregiver is waiting at the designated bus stop — otherwise that child must be returned to his/her school.
The focus on safety includes the use of security cameras mounted on school buses, which can be used to identify students in violation of district policies. In addition, video evidence may be turned over to law enforcement in the case of more serious infractions.
The policy stipulates the school department is not responsible for the safety or conduct of students either waiting at, or on their way to or from, bus stops.
Lastly, the policy outlines expectations for bus drivers, while making clear they assume full responsibility for student safety while loading, unloading and while in route.
Duties include inspecting the vehicle before and after each bus run for cleanliness, overall condition and equipment safety.
Drivers are also required to adhere to published route times for pick-up and drop-off, operate at safe speeds and maintain a “positive attitude” toward students.
According to the policy draft, bus drivers may reprimand students for bad behavior, but must report unspecified serious infractions to school building administrators, who alone have the authority to suspend bus privileges.
Superintendent Amy Berdos said the draft had been reviewed and received favorably by school transportation officials.
“I think it reads well and makes sense,” chairwoman Tina Belanger said. “It definitely shows the two of you put a lot of thought into it.”
In a subsequent discussion about the proposed fiscal 2021 capital budget, school Business Manager WilliamYukna said last week that recruiting and retaining bus drivers has become a significant issue for local administrators.
“We run our own fleet and probably the single largest issue that the bus transportation network is facing is having bus drivers,” he said, adding that Framingham recently faced a serious shortage of available drivers.
“That’s a battle we’re fighting, and I am going to make some recommendations as far as ways for use to attract some more — because without them we don’t have a transportation department.”