AUSTIN (KXAN) — After the legislature reversed a requirement for school bus evacuation training, districts now choose what works for them.
KXAN News found policies vary from district to district and sometimes even school to school within a district, making it more difficult for parents to know what their kids are learning about escaping dangerous situations like crashes or fires involving buses.
In 2007, the state legislature passed a bill requiring school bus evacuation training in the fall and spring. The training also had to last at least an hour, with part of the session on a bus. However, in 2009, lawmakers passed the current law, which made the training optional and recommended school bus evacuation training once every year.
“I also believe that it was necessary for students to know how to evacuate a bus,” said Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto.
Giddings authored the 2007 bill that required training. Giddings says, after that bill passed, she got some resistance from school administrators and others. Critics worried about the time and money involved in the training. Despite requirements for training, some school districts did not use buses on a daily basis.
“We worked with other legislators who believed that it was necessary for us to cut down on some of what was called mandates that might take students away from an atmosphere in which they were actually learning,” said Giddings.
KXAN News filed a public information request for paperwork from several districts that would indicate if they have completed the optional training recommendations outlined in the current law. The Texas Department of Public Safety returned the request stating that it found no such filings for Austin ISD, Dripping Springs ISD, Pflugerville ISD or Round Rock ISD. However, it did find records that Leander ISD completed forms to certify it is doing the one-hour, once-per-year training recommended in the current law.
Still, that does not mean school districts are not informing students about school bus evacuation. For example, a spokesperson with Pflugerville ISD said the district works with its transportation contractor. Drivers review bus safety rules at the beginning of each year and indicate appropriate exits for emergency situations. They also highlight situations that may or may not warrant evacuation from the bus.
Blanco ISD uses its own curriculum using videos and some on the bus training. Hutto ISD does not file paperwork with the state despite the fact it does one-hour training session including use of a workbook for elementary school students. However, the training in that district ends after elementary school.
KXAN News reached out to 20 districts Tuesday. Only a few were able to provide information about their training policies.