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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

School bus drivers trained to be terrorism watchdogs

by Emily Canning-Dean, Bedford Times-Register


Bedford - Parents expect school bus drivers to transport their children safely to and from school by driving carefully and obeying traffic laws. But do they expect them to keep an eye out for suspicious activity in the streets or to check the bus tires for magnetic devices that could be bombs?

These are some of the new procedures Margi Marsh, who regularly transports up to 40 students to and from school and on field trips, is completing during her work day. While she is concerned this large number of students on one bus could be a potential target for terrorism, she feels ready to protect them, after receiving training from the Ohio Department of Education and the Bedford Heights Police Department.

Marsh was one of the district’s 98 transportation employees who attended an ODE training seminar in Medina Aug. 12. The group also attended a seminar locally Aug. 17 where BHPD representatives spoke.

“I think the training made us more aware of what could be going on,” Marsh said.

Ann Way, supervisor for the district’s transportation garage, said drivers and other transportation employees are taking extra precautions after attending the seminars.

“We are keeping school buses locked because they are parked outside,” she said. “Our drivers make pretrip inspections even if the bus is left unattended for only 15 minutes, checking under the wheels and looking for backpacks or anything suspicious.”

Bus aide Andrea Hrybs aid the seminars also taught transportation employees to notice children who are acting in a peculiar way because some forms of terrorism could be caused by a student.

“We learned to watch for students’ behavior,” she said. “Maybe there is a child who is normally very friendly and talkative who has become withdrawn and quiet.”

According to an ODE press release, the state is providing free terrorism prevention training to public school bus drivers in the state. The program, School Bus Watch, is meant to provide drivers with background on potential threats to school buses, give drivers a history on terrorism worldwide and give tips on preventing threatening events.

“As a result of their daily driving routine, school bus drivers are some of the best sources to notice something out of the ordinary,” said Susan Tave Zelman, superintendent of public instruction.

Bedford Heights Police Chief Tim Kalavsky said the police department wants school bus drivers to work with law enforcement to look out for anything out of the ordinary.

“In an event of terror on a school bus, drivers should be aware of what to do,” Kalavsky said. “We want drivers to notify us if they see anything suspicious.”

Way said she plans to have the transportation employees take additional training later.

“We would like to work together with the police departments in all of the communities,” she said. “I think bus drivers can be a good resource for preventing bad situations.”


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