The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Bus driver training held in Bessemer


June 20, 2019


Bessemer — Northern Michigan has a perfent safety rating for busing kids to and from school, and continuing education has a lot to do with that, said organizers of a Wednesday training at A.D. Johnston Junior and Senior High School.

There were 44 bus drivers attending the six-hour continuing education that is required every two years under the Pupil Transportation Act of Michigan, said Chris Bergquist, business manager and transportation supervisor with the Bessemer Public School District. The drivers came from privately owned school bus companies and school districts in Baraga, Ontonagon, Ironwood, Bessemer, Wakefield, Watersmeet and other school districts, along with some Hurley, Wisconsin drivers that operate on some Michigan roads, she said.

“I want people to know that our drivers have training every two years to continue their education just like other staff do and sometimes they don’t get that recognition,” Bergquist said.

Bus drivers must obtain a Class B commercial driver’s license with a passenger endorsement, along with completing an 18 hour course, Bergquist said. The continuing education is required for the licensed drivers who must pass a test with a minimum of 80 percent, she said.

The regional training was made possible 14 years ago when Bergquist requested it so drivers would not have to dedicate a travel day. There have been seven sessions here so far, she said.

“Normally, we do the class during the school year holidays and now we choose to do it when school is out in June,” Bergquist said.

The “It Happened, Don’t Let It Happen To You” curriculum is developed by the Michigan Department of Education, she said. The sessions update drivers on new and enhanced laws and current issues related to busing kids, she said.

Cory Roell and Dan Kurtz, two continuing education instructors from Northern Michigan University, taught the Wednesday sessions. The two also talked about the OK2SAY prevention program of the Michigan Attorney General’s office and the role of bus drivers in submitting tips via text, email, phone, website or email tips as they see things happen.

“We teach the drivers to recognize the signs of symptoms of bullying, suicide and self-harm,” Roell said, along with reporting any suspicious activity that has the potential for harm. “Every student communicates differently with any adult and sometimes that bus driver can be the person that they feel comfortable going to.”

Other topics included the opioid addiction crisis and the state and federal legal differences with certain over the counter medications and recreational and medical marijuana use among drivers, he said. It’s not legal for commercial motor vehicle operators to use or possess marijuana because federal drug testing laws apply to these drivers, he said.

The intended outcome of the training is to update everyone on safety standards, Kurtz said. Drivers encounter a lot of information from outside sources that can lead to misconceptions of the law were it not for the access to training, he said.

Jason Asunto, a driver with the Bessemer School District, said the training offers new information but it’s also a refresher course on basic safety information that drivers need to know.

“It’s a big thing with all the kids on the bus,” Asunto said. “You’ve got to be aware of everything at all times and there are a lot of distractions that you’ve got to be aware of and it’s not an easy job.”

The biggest challenges are watching your driving and also being aware of the children on the bus. It is a double-duty, and that is brought up as part of the training.

Jim Faverom drove for Bessemer schools for 30 years and is now a specialty bus driver for the Intermediate School District. He said it takes a lot of additional training to work with special needs kids and liked the idea of someday requiring teachers aides on all buses.

“It’s always good to have a second set of eyes because you want to be focused on the road,” he said.


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