Montgomery County’s school board is opposing a state bill that would subject public school buses to federal inspection standards.
The board of education took the position out of concern that the proposal could come with a couple of side effects: Buses loaded with children might have to pull over at highway weigh stations and be subject to roadside checks.
“Imagine being on a bus full of eighth-graders and stopping at a weigh station and being backed up behind 10 trucks for 45 minutes—after an all-day field trip,” Superintendent Jack Smith said last week during a school board meeting.
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Ron Young of Frederick, said in an interview that he has no intention of complicating bus trips. The proposal simply would make private and public school bus owners answerable to the same federal standards, he said.
The legislation states that the “owner of a school bus shall ensure that the school bus is inspected, repaired, and maintained” in accordance with a certain part of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Young said he introduced the bill after hearing private school bus owners complain that their vehicles fall under the federal regulations, but public buses do not.
“If you have to inspect the private buses this way for safety, why wouldn’t public buses be inspected the same way? We’re just looking for consistency,” Young said, adding that he’d never heard of a private bus having to stop at a weigh station.
However, Patricia Swanson, the school board’s legislative aide, said Montgomery County Public Schools staff was worried that the proposal would subject school buses to the whole regulatory section. Adherence to the entire section could lead to the roadside checks and weigh station stops, she said.
Smith said he’s not bothered by a discussion on strengthening safety standards, but the concerns about waylaying buses on their trips have to be resolved.
“That has to change, or we should have a statewide protest against this bill,” he said.
Swanson also argued that Maryland’s regulations for public school bus inspections already are more stringent than the federal standards referenced in Young’s bill.
However, she said she’s open to working with Young on the proposal.
“[W]e appreciate Senator Young’s desire to keep our students as safe as possible in our buses,” she wrote in an email. “We are looking forward to the hearing to work out these details at the betterment of all students.”
The school board last week also voted to support a state bill that would direct unclaimed lottery winnings to the public pre-kindergarten programs and legislation that would allow certain students who are English language learners to take the GED without withdrawing from the school system.
Bethany Rodgers can be reached at email@example.com.