By SEAN ROWLEY
TAHLEQUAH — firstname.lastname@example.org
Before they can begin a day of classes, many Tahlequah Public Schools students must take a publicly funded journey.
They get to their respective schools aboard buses, steered by drivers who bear much responsibility in their part-time jobs.
“TPS has a dedicated group of drivers,” said Cody Thompson, director of maintenance, transportation and grounds. “They take their jobs very seriously and realize their importance. They are responsible for the transport and safety of over 1,000 kids every day.”
On an average day, TPS transports 1,010 students during the mornings and 1,025 in the afternoons. The district employs 26 drivers, and each must carry a commercial driver’s license with a specific “S” endorsement for school bus driving. They must also pass a medical exam, drug test and felony background check.
Jack Lankford assumed the district’s role of assistant transportation director after eight years as a bus driver. During a typical day as a driver, he awoke at 4 a.m., got home from driving his route around 9 a.m., returned at 2 p.m. and finished his afternoon shift at around 5:30 p.m.
“I know a lot of people think it is an easy job, but there are actually a lot of difficulties,” he said. “The kids can act up, and you need to keep taking glances at the mirror while you drive.”
Drivers must also deal with parents. Lankford said a common parental complaint is that a child was struck by another while on the bus.
“The seats are high-backed,” Lankford said. “That is to improve the safety for the children in a collision. They don’t fly over the seats and around the inside of the bus. However, it can make monitoring the kids difficult. The little ones you may not see unless they peek around the side. The older ones, you can only see from their noses up. So there is a potential for the kids to make mischief.”
Lankford said another difficulty for drivers is the fluidity of the routes.
“The routes can change on any day,” he said. “People move in and move away. Some kids only ride the buses on certain days of the week. The drivers have to know all this and make sure all the kids are getting on the buses and getting off at the right stops. There is no daily memo to remind them. ”
Thompson said that for many drivers, the top complaint is also the top reason they enjoy the job.
“Kids are kids, and they have to sit on the bus for quite a while,” he said. “Our drivers have complaints, but they are also very understanding. They enjoy kids and enjoy seeing them safely to school and back. They wouldn’t do this if they didn’t”
Those with questions about TPS bus service can call (918) 458-4168.
To learn the rules for riding a TPS school bus, go to www.tahlequahTDP.com/onlineexclusives.