Bus drivers Heather Squires, Lois Smith, Kahleah Lawler and Jama Scherb practice using the child safety restraints designed for small children, ages 3 - 5, on the Head Start school buses.
By IVY HERRON
The small school buses used to transport 53 local preschool children to and from the Clay County Head Start program are experiencing some big problems.
Four bus drivers for the program recently sat down with The Brazil Times to talk about the issues they face.
"We deal with stop-arm violators and impatient drivers on a weekly basis," said bus driver Lois Smith. "People don't realize that it takes longer during our stops to pick up children than a regular bus."
Tuesday through Friday the 22-passenger buses travel local streets in the mornings and afternoons.
But unlike regular school buses, federal regulations dictate what occurs during a stop to pick up, or deliver ,a child participating in the Head Start program.
When a bus arrives at a pick up point the driver will blow the horn because they cannot leave the bus with children on board. The driver will wait three minutes, but no longer than five minutes, for the child.
If the child does not arrive, the driver will continue on the route.
If the child appears to be ill, a driver can request to take the child's temperature before they board the bus. If sick, the child will be returned to the guardian at that time.
A driver must see a recognizable guardian at the time of pick up or delivery and no child will be released into the custody of anyone under the age of 16.
Each preschool child, ranging from 3 - 5 years old, has to be escorted to the bus by an authorized guardian. No child is allowed to cross or step into the street to board the bus.
The child is taken to their assigned bus seat -- children weighing under 30 pounds must be placed in a child restraint seat, all others must be secured in seat-belts called Q-Vests.
The child's possessions must be secured before the bus can leave.
"All that takes time, especially when cold weather comes and they have coats on," Jama Scherb said. "Our average stop lasts about four or five minutes."
"But, these children are very young and sometime they need another hug before leaving home, so there are times when we have to wait for that too," Heather Squires said.
When returning a child home, the driver will once again blow the horn to alert the family of their arrival.
If a recognizable guardian does not acknowledge the bus' arrival, the child will not be left at the delivery point.
"We can't just leave them home alone," Kahleah Lawler said. "Their safety is our priority."
The driver will take the child to an alternate address or back to the Head Start facility located at 800 W. Jackson St. The parent can either notify the Head Start staff of a problem or pick the child up within a half hour.
If the child is not picked up by a guardian, Child Protective Services can be notified.
Riding a school bus can be an adventure for some preschool children and a nightmare for others, but Head Start bus drivers feel it is their job to create a good relationship with children and their families that makes learning a good experience.
"All children deserve a safe ride to school," said program director Sandy Morlan. "The drivers at our Head Start program do an excellent job in making that happen."