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Local News

School bus parent company's safety record questioned

District 202 says it’s never had safety issues with its bus service

At the June 25 Plainfield School District 202 Board meeting, a resident spoke to members about concerns with bus safety.

Joanna Hernandez, who also is a Chicago special needs teacher, was concerned about the safety record of National Express Group, which owns the company providing the district’s special education bus services.

“I’m asking you to hold Septran accountable to the highest standards when it comes to school bus safety, especially for students with special needs,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez was raising the concerns on behalf of the Stand Up for School Bus Safety coalition made up of parents, educators, elected officials, clergy, bus drivers and monitors in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who had the same concerns about Durham, another of National Express Group’s child companies. In November 2016, a bus in Hamilton County in Chattanooga crashed into a tree and killed six children, and the driver since has been charged with vehicular homicide and other offenses, according to media reports.

But for District 202, the relationship, specifically with Septran, has gone back for more than a decade. District 202 spokesman Tom Hernandez said the officials are aware of the allegations against National Express, although they have never had such an incident with Septran during the time they’ve worked together. He added the district works “extremely well” with both companies, and in the rare cases when there have been concerns, the companies have worked to address them, including removing drivers at the district’s discretion.

“We do everything we can to ensure safety,” Hernandez said.

The Stand Up for School Bus Safety coalition alleges that the United Kingdom-based National Express is a profitable, multinational corporation that takes a “cavalier approach to safety and maintenance,” member Dean Pearce said.

The coalition’s focus is what it said is a 25 percent higher rate of crashes per 1 million vehicle miles traveled compared with competitors First Student and Student Transportation. They also allege that the number of federal safety violations per 1 million vehicle miles traveled for National Express was 41 percent greater than its peers.

These numbers come from a study based on data from the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

There was a similar effort in Harvard School District 50 earlier this year. The coalition warned the school board about Durham School Services. Members of the coalition have been trying to educate and advocate for school bus safety around the country.

National Express did not respond to questions for this story.

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