Buses exit

County school buses exit the system’s bus garage in August to start the 2019-20 academic year. School bus drivers and other commercial driver’s license holders will now be subject to stricter drug and alcohol testing requirements, including registration in a federal database. (Cheryl Burke photo)

BEAUFORT — The County Board of Education approved a policy revision Jan. 7 that strengthens drug and alcohol testing requirements for school bus and activity bus drivers.

Assistant Superintendent Blair Propst, during the Board of Education meeting in the school system’s central office, said the revision reflects new federal mandates issued in a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation.

“It requires a new background check process through a federal system for all (commercial driver’s license) drivers,” Mr. Propst said. “We will now be required to conduct a query of all employees, pre-employment and annually, through the new federal Commercial Driver’s License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. At this time, we are registered with the clearinghouse and going through the process to follow the law.”

The federal regulations require employers of drivers whose duties require a CDL under federal law to conduct queries of the new clearinghouse.

School systems must query the clearinghouse database as part of their obligation to identify prospective drivers who have committed drug and alcohol program violations and who are not legally permitted to operate or perform other safety-sensitive functions related to school buses or other commercial motor vehicles that require a CDL.

The new regulations require a pre-employment inquiry for bus drivers and annual queries with employee consent prior to the process.

On Thursday, the school system’s Transportation Director Lloyd Willis said traditionally, bus drivers have gone through a drug and alcohol test during their CDL class. This has been followed by random drug testing of drivers during the school year.

There are currently 316 school employees that hold CDLs to drive school and activity buses for the system.

“The last time, we tested 78 drivers in November,” Mr. Willis said, adding that a computer randomly picked the names to be tested. “Normally we do random testing two or three times a year.”

He added that in the many years he has worked with the school system, he has never had a driver fail a drug or alcohol test.

While Mr. Willis said he likes the idea of strengthening requirements to ensure the safe transportation of students, he’s concerned about the increased cost.

“A drug test costs $32 (per person) and the federal government isn’t going to pay,” he said. “It’s another unfunded mandate.”

Mr. Willis said the new requirements took effect Jan. 6, but it will take time to get employees registered in the new system, which he reported is already having problems.

“We’ve been told it will take a couple of years to get all the kinks worked out. So by sometime in January 2021 we should be up and running,” he said.

Mr. Willis said the advantage of having a national database for drivers holding a CDL is increased accountability.

“As an employer, if someone failed a drug test and quit driving for us and went to say, Pepsi, to drive, unless we told Pepsi they wouldn’t know. Now it will pop up in the system,” he noted.

As part of the new federal regulations, employees who fail or refuse testing will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.

According to the school system policy, an employee who has committed a violation will not be allowed to perform any safety-sensitive functions until the employee has completed a return-to-duty process. That process includes an evaluation by a substance abuse professional, completion of any appropriate treatment designated by the professional and achievement of a negative return-to-duty test.

In addition, once the employee’s violation has been reported to the clearinghouse, the employee may not resume safety-sensitive functions until a query of the clearinghouse demonstrates the employee completed the return-to-duty process.

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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