On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a report that showed 10 bus drivers in four districts across the state should have been banned from transporting students due to criminal convictions.
State College Area School District was not part of the audit, but Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said the district does not employ any person who fails the state-mandated background checks.
All employees, volunteers or subcontractors working or volunteering within the district are required to pass background checks that are comprised of a criminal history report generated by the state police, child abuse history clearance from the Department of Human Services and criminal history report generated by the FBI.
DePasquale’s report showed that the drivers, who were working in Lancaster, Chester Upland, Penn Hills and the city of Philadelphia school districts, were operating with criminal convictions that should have disqualified them.
“To say this is insane is an understatement,” DePasquale said.
The report also showed that in the case of the Lancaster school district, 21 of 132 bus drivers employed as of June 15, failed to meet at least one employment requirement. Five of those 21 were ineligible when they were hired.
O’Donnell said SCASD has been and will continue to take extra steps to ensure the safety of its students.
“These reports are required to be submitted prior to a prospective employee is recommended to our school board for hire,” O’Donnell said. “This something we take very seriously and we go beyond the state-mandated steps.”
Each day, SCASD drivers are responsible for transporting about 7,000 children across the 150-square-mile district, the largest in the county. To do it, the district relies on 106 drivers. Of the drivers, 48 are district employees and 58 drive for one of four subcontracted bus companies.
The subcontractors handle the clearance forms, which are then submitted to the district, according to Linda Pierce, SCASD director of human resources. If an applicant has criminal charges, employment eligibility is mainly governed by section 111 of the public school code, which eliminates candidates with serious criminal convictions or any conviction involving a child.
The district’s drivers are mainly from the State College community, which makes the vetting process easier, O’Donnell said, but when an applicant is considered from outside of the community, extra effort is taken.
“Calling all of the references is a must, but it’s just one way that we verify the character of a potential employee,” O’Donnell said. “We’re aggressive and assertive in vetting all of our hires, and that goes for every position throughout the district.”
If a driver is cleared for employment, he or she is required to resubmit the clearances every five years and if during employment a driver is charged with a crime, it must be reported to the district or the subcontractor.
Another step the district has taken to provide safe transportation was installation of cameras on all district and contracted buses. The cameras are mounted in a locked box inside of the bus and serve as a reference point for any potential situations.
“This all fits within our strategy to protect children,” O’Donnell said. “But the hiring process is so critical because when people have their kids with an adult, they need to feel safe and trust that we’ve put their kid with an adult that’s of high character. That due diligence is critical.”