Utah school bus drivers may soon undergo more background checks due to a 2008 legislative audit that sounded alarms about some drivers' histories.
The state Board of Education approved new standards Friday that would require all new school bus drivers to submit fingerprints to the state's Bureau of Criminal Identification and undergo FBI background checks. The standards also would require all bus drivers to undergo additional background checks every five years.
Now, new drivers are required to undergo background checks but not necessarily FBI ones, and, for a long time, drivers were only required to undergo the checks when they were hired. More recently, they were required to undergo the checks once every six years, said Murrell Martin, pupil transportation specialist at the state Office of Education.
The new standards also would require school districts to review bus drivers' personal driving records at least twice a year, which now they only have to do once a year. The state Office of Education will have an electronic system updated with any convictions for bus drivers and will send that information to districts every month.
The changes follow a 2008 legislative audit that found 13 Utah school bus drivers with criminal convictions that should have disqualified them from the job, such as domestic violence, child abuse/neglect and negligent manslaughter. The audit found another 10 drivers with highly questionable driving records that included serious moving violations such as DUI or driving on a suspended license.
The audit found that 3 percent of nearly 2,700 drivers in 36 Utah districts examined had multiple tickets or serious violations on their records.
Martin said many school districts are already requiring drivers to undergo some background checks, but the new standards will require all districts to do them.
"I think we've always had a very good pool of drivers, but this will raise the bar even more," Martin said.
Boyd Kimber, a Granite School District bus driver and president of the Granite Educational Support Professionals Association, said he has no problem with drivers undergoing additional background checks.
"If your nose is clean, what have you got against it?" Kimber asked.
But he and some others in his group are concerned that some districts might make drivers pay for the checks.
"In some school districts they want employees to pay for it," Kimber said.
Martin said it will be up to individual school districts to decide who pays.
Dixie Allen, board vice chairwoman, said the changes should protect kids. "[For] anyone working in the school system with school kids, we need to make sure they have a clean record, that there's nothing in there that could harm schoolchildren," Allen said.
Bus driver background checks
A 2008 legislative audit looked at nearly 2,700 drivers in 36 of Utah's 40 districts and found 88 drivers, or 3 percent, had multiple tickets or serious violations on their records. The audit recommended that the Utah Office of Education require stronger criminal background checks when hiring drivers and consider requiring districts to perform periodic criminal background checks on drivers after they are hired.