In a rare day of summer activity at the State House, the Senate Transportation Committee convened on Thursday, July 26 and approved a series of bills aimed at enhancing the safety of students who ride the bus to and from school.  In testimony before the committee, the NJSBA expressed its overall support for the bill package, while offering various suggestions and amendments intended to mitigate any administrative or financial burdens districts might encounter in implementing the proposals. A summary of each of the bills is below.

School Bus Aides  S-859/A-1888 requires a minimum of one school bus aide for every 15 special needs students on the bus. NJSBA was supportive of the safety goal of the legislation to protect special education students as they travel on school buses.  However, NJSBA urged the committee to adequately fund this proposed new mandate. The legislation has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration of its fiscal impact.

Reporting Driver Misconduct  S-1773 requires all school buses to display a phone number, website address, or other identifying information that allows the public to report a bus driver’s misconduct while operating the school bus. Such reports would be made to the board of education or nonpublic school for which the school bus provides transportation. The bill further requires the New Jersey Commissioner of Education to promulgate regulations that establish: a) the appropriate official to address and respond to a complaint of driver misconduct; b) the appropriate actions which a school may take to respond to a complaint of driver misconduct; c) and the time period during which a board of education may act to respond to a complaint.

School Bus Safety Study S-2754/A-4224 directs the education commissioner to conduct a study on the safety of school bus passengers involved in emergency situations; various safety technologies that may be installed in school buses; and the qualifications for school bus drivers. The analysis will include an evaluation of the statutory and regulatory requirements relating to school bus safety, the oversight of school bus operations, and the current policies, plans, and procedures implemented by school districts. It will be performed in consultation with the State Police, the Division of Highway Traffic Safety, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC), and the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.  The measure has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further deliberation.

Transportation Supervisor Certification  S-2755/A-2436 requires a school district transportation supervisor, as a condition of employment, to complete the School Transportation Supervisors Certification Program offered by Rutgers University or an alternate certification program designated by the commissioner of education. The legislation would go into effect at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year and apply to newly-hired supervisors as well as those with less than 11 years of experience.

Driver Physical Fitness  S-2848 requires a school bus driver renewing, or an applicant seeking, either a passenger (“P”) endorsement or school bus (“S”) endorsement for his or her commercial driver license (CDL) to submit proof of physical fitness upon license renewal or initial application. The driver shall submit proof of physical fitness in the form of a medical examination and accompanying medical certificate completed by a medical examiner listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners (NRCME) maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.  Under existing federal regulations, CDL holders are already required to pass a physical exam every 24 months.  The legislation increases the frequency for proving physical fitness for drivers once they reach the age of 70 (annually) and 75 (every six months).  In addition, the bill requires that all drivers of buses or any other vehicles used for student transportation submit to a medical exam that includes cognitive, hearing, and visual acuity tests.  The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration of its fiscal impact.

Removing Suspended Drivers from the Road  S-2850 requires a board of education or school bus contractor to provide the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) with a statement, within 24 hours of receiving notification of a bus driver license suspension or revocation, verifying that the school bus driver no longer operates a school bus for the board or contractor. Under current law, the NJDOE is notified by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission if a school bus driver has his or her driving privileges suspended or revoked. The NJDOE then provides this information to the appropriate board of education or school bus contractor that employs the driver.

Safety Managers and Driver Improvement Supervisors  S-2851 requires that boards of education, as well as contractors that provide school transportation services, employ the following school bus safety personnel:

  • School Bus Safety Managers – The responsibilities of a school bus safety manager would include ensuring compliance with state and federal laws, rules, and regulations regarding school bus safety; providing periodic training in the proper use of emergency equipment; and disseminating industry best practices for avoiding accidents.
  • Supervisors of Driver Improvement – The responsibilities of this position would include providing professional development, including individualized behind-the-wheel training, to school bus drivers; and periodically accompanying school bus drivers on their appointed school bus routes.

The bill directs the chief administrator of the NJMVC to adopt regulations that stipulate the appropriate number of personnel that must be employed based on the number of school bus drivers employed by the board of education or contractor; the qualifications necessary to hold the position; and the documentation that is required to be retained to demonstrate compliance with the bill’s provisions.

The measure explicitly stipulates that the safety manager and supervisor positions may be filled by current employees who meet the qualifications established by the NJMVC. While generally supportive of the bill’s intent, the NJSBA is seeking clarifying amendments to provide districts with greater flexibility in order to comply with the legislation and any additional requirements established by the NJMVC without the need to hire additional personnel. The legislation has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, which will provide an opportunity for changes to be made to the bill.

Complying with Federal Safety Regulations  S-2852 requires school bus operations in New Jersey to comply with a host of federal regulations concerning civil rights requirements, noise emissions, certain federal programs, registration and insurance, drug testing, safety fitness procedures, and various safety requirements. According to the bill’s sponsor, school bus operations are already complying with these regulations, so the legislation is codifying common practice.

Driver and Bus Aide Education  S-2853 would codify existing State Board of Education regulations concerning the safety education program that is currently required of all permanent and substitute school bus drivers and school bus aides.  The bill requires the program to be provided twice a year, once at the beginning of the school year and once during the second semester. Existing regulations do not specify the frequency with which the program is to be administered.

Driver Re-Testing Requirement S-2854 requires school bus drivers to retake the school bus (“S”) endorsement knowledge test each time the school bus driver applies to renew the driver’s commercial driver’s license (CDL) in order to maintain the endorsement.  The legislation will be heard by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee before going to the full Senate.

Student ID Cards and Passenger Lists S-2855 requires every public school student to carry an identification card at school-sponsored, off-campus activities. The bill also requires a building principal to keep a list of students on any school buses used for school-sponsored activities in case of emergencies. While supportive of this safety measure, NJSBA sought amendments to clarify that local boards should have discretion as to whether or not student identification must be carried by the youngest students at all times as well as those students involved in athletic competition, for instance. NJSBA also sought an amendment to give districts the time needed to make adjustments to district policies and procedures before the bill would become effective.