Auditor General Eugene DePasquale Tuesday warned school officials to be vigilant with bus driver background checks after his office discovered 10 drivers in various districts who should have been banned from transporting students due to criminal convictions.
Auditors also found that since 2013, 58 school districts in 28 counties were missing driver documentation or had drivers with one or more missing certifications or criminal background checks.
“Protecting the safety of students must be a top priority for every single school in the state,” DePasquale said in a news release. “It is outrageous that my team found bus drivers with criminal records that — by law — should have precluded them from driving students.”
DePasquale said many schools that use bus contractors are under the false impression that the contractor is responsible for background checks and for ensuring they have credentials.
“Let me be very clear: It is the responsibility of the schools to make sure all drivers have the appropriate qualifications and background clearances to interact with students,” he said. “School officials are also charged with maintaining the driver documentation in school files.”
The auditor general’s office found numerous problems in Lancaster School District’s transportation system. The office said 21 of its 132 bus drivers — 16 percent — as of June 15, 2017, failed to meet at least one employment requirement. Five of those 21 drivers were ineligible based on criminal convictions.
Of those convictions, one had a conviction requiring an absolute ban on employment, three had convictions that barred them from employment until 2022, 2024 and 2025, and another driver had a conviction in another state that appears to require a ban from contact with students.
“These individuals had convictions for simple assault, delivery of controlled substances, and possession of firearms without a license, and yet they were driving students,” DePasquale said. “That is absolutely ludicrous.”
Those drivers are no longer with the district, but one of the drivers who was employed for three years and not eligible on the hire date remains employed since the “look-back period” was satisfied this past September.
In addition to the criminal convictions, the office said 11 drivers did not have evidence of a valid driver’s license, proof of completion of school bus driver skills and safety training, and/or evidence of passing a physical exam. Another five drivers were missing criminal history clearances and the office could not determine if they were suitable for the job.
Statewide, the office also found other issues, including a driver convicted of aggravated assault in Delaware County, a driver with a drug conviction and another with an aggravated assault conviction in Allegheny County and a driver with an aggravated assault conviction and a driver with an arson conviction in Philadelphia.
“Problems with bus driver background checks and certifications are found across the board: in urban, suburban and rural school districts,” DePasquale said. “It is imperative that school officials use due diligence in vetting and monitoring all bus drivers to ensure the safety of students.
“I am pleased to report that in most — but not in all cases — where we conducted a subsequent audit, the school districts with bus driver deficiencies have moved to correct problems we identified,” he said. “That said, I will follow up in future audits to ensure that nothing has fallen through the cracks.