Annual “Safety Blitz”: Making sure students with special needs have a safe ride


The morning began early for Jeane Lindley and her colleagues from the BCPS Office of Transportation. Clad in luminous yellow safety vests marked “Driver Instructor,” Lindley and a band of inspectors stood alongside the bus drop-off loop at Ridge Ruxton School early one school day, sipping warm drinks and waiting for the buses to roll in.

Welcome to Safety Blitz 2013.

For three years, the school system’s transportation office has conducted such events – unannounced, surprise safety inspections – as a way of ensuring that everything is in place for a safe, uneventful ride from home to school and back again for the Baltimore County students who ride the system’s 58 special needs buses.

“The drivers and attendants don’t seem to mind the inspections,” Lindley said. “We’re on the same team, and we all want the same thing – a safe ride.”

On this morning at Ridge Ruxton, a school for students aged 3 to 21 who have multi-handicaps, a row of buses snakes around the loop and waits as Lindley and her team board each bus and observe the straps, locks and other safety devices that keep wheelchairs and other apparatus secure. They go down a checklist of precautions and conditions and mark off each one – oxygen tanks properly secured? Bessie seats secured properly? Carseats being used properly?

When Lindley inspects the bus, she and each driver sign off on the form. If infractions are found, corrective action is taken that may include driver re-training if necessary.

“Transportation is so much more than just putting students on a bus,” says Jim Mitcherling, head of the school system’s Office of Transportation. “A lot of hard work goes into transporting our students safely every day.”

In addition to the visual checks necessary for a passing grade on board each bus, inspectors also want to know that written evacuation plans are on hand and that driver and attendant training is up to date. Mitcherling says he’s seen signs of improvement since the safety blitzes went into practice.

“The driver and attendant teams seem to have a better understanding of their roles and responsibilities and are working together to accomplish the goal of a safe ride to and from school,” he said. “It is important for [them] to know that the training team is available and visible to help them with issues that may arise. We want them to feel comfortable coming to us for help or advice with any situation.”

Back at Ridge Ruxton, when the inspections are done and children have debarked each bus and headed into class, Lindley and her team loiter for a bit before heading back to bus lots and offices to record the results. In another day or two, they’ll be out with the sun again, at another location, motioning cheerily to surprised bus drivers to come on board, and looking for anything that will make any child’s ride the safest it can be.

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Story and photos by Charles Herndon, Communications Specialist
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