New Jersey School Bus Company Deliberately Skipped Background Checks

Who's behind the wheel of all those school buses that bring millions of children to campuses across the nation every morning? It's an important question—school bus safety is critical. Lapses can result in serious issues, including major accidents. Therefore, it makes sense that such drivers must submit to a thorough and rigorous background check and drug screening before they can start transporting children. Unfortunately, not every school district or the transportation companies they hire go far enough.

Such was the case in Paterson, New Jersey, where the manager of two companies operating school buses recently pleaded guilty to several charges of lying about the screening process. Rather than honestly hiring individuals, the manager would often ignore red flags in background checks and hire drivers anyway. He would then lie to the school districts about their credentials and suitability—representing his business as far more safe and capable than it was. The result was the awarding of multiple high-value contracts.

The violations go far beyond skipping a pre-employment drug screening or background check. In many cases, the company hired drivers who did not have any form of valid commercial driver's license. Others had criminal records, some serious—and a few drivers even operated school buses with suspended licenses.

Only when a bus driver ran a stop sign did a police officer discover the operator had no license and an active warrant. This event quickly unraveled the scheme and revealed a pattern of fraudulent behavior potentially going as far back as the early 2000s. The owner of the company is likely to face several years in prison.

There are good reasons to conduct extensive screening of drivers, not just for school buses but for all commercial operations. Although there are thankfully no reported incidents of harm coming to children because of these unlicensed and unqualified drivers, the risks were immense. That is why the Department of Transportation requires extensive screening and uses advanced drug tests to detect controlled substances.

For school districts nationwide, this story should serve as a wake-up call to pay more attention to how transportation works within their borders. Do they hire bus drivers directly and control processes such as employee drug screening, or do they outsource this effort to another company, as was the case in Paterson? If so, how much do districts know about their hiring procedures?

Due diligence in this area is vital. From disqualifying a driver because of a positive pre-employment drug test to declining to hire someone because of a previous violent felony, these actions keep children safer. Only safe, qualified, competent, and understanding drivers should be responsible for safely ferrying students to school. Otherwise, the risk for potential harm is too high. In too many cases, a lax approach has led to tragic headlines—and the Paterson case is an excellent example showing that not everyone takes the safety of children as seriously as they should.

Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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