Last month, Columbus, Ohio, police arrested an individual who drives bus for one of the Ohio schools in Columbus. The driver was charged with possession of cocaine and further investigation found the individual had three previous convictions for driving under the influence.
First Student, Inc., is the private company, who employs the driver and provides bus drivers for many of the Ohio schools. They employ 22,000 drivers to over 500 school districts in 38 states across the country, transporting nearly two million children each school day. Of the 20,000 bus drivers within the Ohio schools, 3,000-to-5,000 work for private contractors. State law requires that bus drivers for the Ohio schools have a commercial driver’s license and a criminal background check through Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.
After the driver’s arrest, First Student discovered it had not done complete criminal background checks on all of its drivers. Service to the Columbus Ohio schools was suspended and the district cancelled classes for the day to allow the company to review their background check records for other such omissions.
Spokeswoman Jennifer Robinson assured the public that First Student has submitted hundreds of the required background checks and fingerprints to the Bureau since 2004, though Alex Goepfert, spokesman for the state’s attorney general’s office, stated that the firm had not submitted anything since that year. Additionally, she stated that First Student runs all background checks through a private company and believes the arrested driver is an isolated case of omission.
Ed Simpson, chief of policy and administration for the state attorney general’s office, is searching for a better way to improve enforcement of the background check for Ohio schools’ bus drivers law and to ensure such oversight does not occur again.
State attorney general Marc Dann met with Columbus area legislators to discuss ways that the statute can be strengthened. Failure to conduct these criminal background checks is a misdemeanor under the law. According to Simpson, Dann also is investigating if a criminal case or administrative action can be brought against First Student.
First Student’s oversight has other school districts within the Ohio schools asking about their drivers. Robinson stated that First Student is conducting a comprehensive review of all Ohio schools’ bus drivers.
Ohio schools’ Columbus district is evaluating its procedures and whether to cancel their contract with First Student. Ohio schools’ Cincinnati district has asked First Student and their two other private bus driver providers to resubmit their criminal background screenings for further review; they review background checks through the state every two years and locally through a private company every six months. Ohio schools’ Dayton district hires their own drivers and review background checks monthly. According to spokesmen, Ohio schools’ Lorain and Elyria districts were assured by First Student that appropriate checks had been completed on all of their drivers.