School bus driver background checks provide vital protection for student safety. They are also a key safeguard against costly legal liability for school districts regarding the contractors they hire to provide student transportation services. Vetting prospective school bus drivers for criminal history, sex offender status, driving record infractions, required licensing, and drug or alcohol use can save lives, protect students from sexual abuse and other dangers, prevent lawsuits or public relations disasters for school districts, and much more.
Despite the clear importance of school bus driver background checks, headlines continue to draw attention to school districts and bus companies that fail to vet their drivers thoroughly. A recent example comes out of New Jersey, where the Attorney General’s Office has charged the owner of a school bus company with hiring both ex-criminal offenders and unlicensed drivers at his business.
The story begins not with a school bus incident, but with a political probe. New Jersey’s Attorney General was investigating political impropriety in the city of Paterson, where two city councilmen were accused of voter fraud related to mail-in ballots for a recent election. The investigation uncovered ties between another Paterson councilman, Shahin Khalique, and his brother, Shelim, who owns a school bus company called A-1 Elegant Tours, LLC. A-1 operates in New Jersey as Eastern Star Transportation.
In perusing A-1 personnel files, the Attorney General’s Office found that the company had repeatedly hired drivers with no valid commercial driver’s licenses and no endorsements to transportation children. Some of the drivers employed or previously hired by A-1 had criminal records; one was a registered sex offender.
New Jersey state law requires all school bus drivers to undergo background checks, fingerprinting, and drug testing at the beginning of each new academic year. Individuals with criminal histories are not permitted to drive school buses in New Jersey. The state also requires every school bus driver to hold both a valid commercial driver’s license and an “S” endorsement from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. The extra endorsement certifies that the driver has been road-tested behind the wheel of a school bus and has a proven ability to drive a bus safely and competently.
The Attorney General’s Office says that A-1 not only failed to conduct school bus driver background checks, but did so willfully and then covered it up from the state and the school districts for which it provided transportation services.
The Attorney General’s report states that A-1 “lied about its employees and equipment to secure contracts,” allowing “unqualified drivers, convicted felons, and those under the influence drive and supervise young children each day in what were frequently unsafe vehicles.” Two A-1 drivers are facing charges for operating school buses under the influence of drugs. One of them, driving while high, crashed a bus carrying students with special needs.
A-1 allegedly lied about which drivers would be covering specific routes to keep its wrongdoing under the radar and told bus drivers to take their buses home at night to avoid Motor Vehicle Commission inspections. The commission issued 22 citations of A-1 and its bus drivers in 2018 for issues ranging from suspended licenses to invalid S endorsements and ultimately impounded A-1’s buses after surprise inspections identified severe safety violations.
A-1 failed to operate honestly, did not vet its drivers thoroughly, and avoided the use of bus driver background checks to hire safer, more qualified drivers. Khalique, A-1’s owner, and Henry Rhodes, the company’s manager, are now facing a range of charges including conspiracy, theft, tampering with public records, and misconduct by a corporate official.
At backgroundchecks.com, we are here to help school districts and school bus companies screen their drivers in accordance with all state and local laws. Contact us today to learn more.