Almost 100 Iowa school buses have been repeatedly labeled unsafe to transport children in the past five years.
The Des Moines Register reported that gaps in the bus inspection system make it possible for those buses to return to service without being fixed. Nearly 238,000 Iowa children ride buses daily.
Iowa rules don’t require re-inspections of buses that have been deemed unsafe, so it’s up to school districts to make sure repairs are done. The state inspectors also don’t keep detailed records about what repairs are needed after the inspections of more than 7,500 school vehicles are completed. And there are no penalties for districts with repeat safety problems.
State Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, says the newspaper’s findings suggest that state bus inspection rules may need to be reviewed.
“Would you put your child on a bus if the brakes weren’t fixed? Of course not,” Ragan said. “You trust that transportation to take your child to school. This is not something you can take lightly.”
During the past five years, state inspectors found similar problems on 99 buses at two or more consecutive inspections. It appears that those buses were being returned to the roads without being fixed, said Bruce Little, a former board member of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services and the transportation director for Colorado’s education department.
The Register reviewed more than 125,000 Iowa school bus inspection records from the past five years as part of its report.
One example of a repeat bus problem was found in a bus from the Albia district. A problem with the parking brake was identified on one of the district’s buses in four consecutive inspections. But after each citation, school officials said repairs had been made.
Sen. Paul McKinley, R-Chariton, said districts should be held accountable for providing safe transportation. McKinley himself was injured almost 50 years ago when the school bus he was riding on collided with another vehicle.
“If somebody certifies that something has been taken care of and in fact it wasn’t, then I think there needs to be some type of reprimand or penalty,” McKinley said. “You just can’t jeopardize children’s safety.”
But the state Education Department doesn’t believe there’s a need to revamp the bus inspection system because there haven’t been major problems. Jeff Barger, the department’s deputy director, said there haven’t been any student bus deaths or injuries in Iowa linked to maintenance issues in the over five years.
Barger said requiring re-inspections of all serious violations would be overkill. He said that Iowa already inspects buses twice a year while most states inspect them only once.