Originally created 02/28/01

School official offers bus plan



Columbia County school Superintendent Tommy Price presented his plans Tuesday to improve school bus safety, plans prompted by the death last month of a kindergartner crushed by a bus.

Meanwhile, the parents of Aleana Johnson are seeking answers of their own. They have hired a California law firm that specializes in litigating transportation accidents to help them learn more about what happened.

"There has been some misinformation that we want to get cleared up. They say that Aleana bent down to tie her shoes, but she didn't even know how to tie her shoes, and they were both tied after the incident," Christy Johnson said. "Our attorneys are helping us write (state) laws and find answers; that's our main concern."

The Johnsons said they plan to review the information before deciding whether they will pursue any action in the case.

"There is no compensation; there's nothing that can bring back my daughter. But someone needs to be held accountable," Mrs. Johnson said.

The Johnsons' counsel has asked to examine the 1987 International school bus involved in the incident and to have access to all records about the vehicle and to any information pertaining to the training and personnel records of the driver.

School board attorney Jim Blanchard Jr. said the board is reviewing the requests.

"We're taking it under consideration," he said. "We're in touch with risk management, and we're working on it at this time. It's premature to make any comments at this time."

During Tuesday' school board meeting, Mr. Price presented school trustees with a plan to improve bus safety that would intensify training for drivers, pupils and parents.

The bus safety plan was formulated as a result of recommendations from two bus safety experts who were called in to review the transportation system after Aleana's death.

"I feel real good about it, because these are things that are attainable by our transportation department, things we certainly can do," said Shirley Doolittle, Columbia County transportation director. "I've already gotten target dates on some of these recommendations, and some are in the beginning stages."

The safety plan outlines six areas of improvement including: systematic training of drivers; better training on the EduLog routing system; bus maintenance and repair (an improved fleet maintenance and fuel monitoring system and pretrip inspections with immediate reporting of bus defects); and the development of a driver handbook.

Mr. Price said he would like to work through the plan through midsummer so that all of the issues could be addressed by next year.

Ms. Johnson, who was given three minutes to speak before the board during the public participation portion of the meeting, urged the school system to move forward with implementing safety measures, such as having bus monitors on buses and more rigorous safety training for drivers and pupils.

Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113.