Student safety is ‘highest priority’

Published 9:39 am Thursday, June 1, 2017

Lunenburg County Public Schools aren’t among the affected school divisions that will have to have its school buses retrofitted to install a safety device that prevents the parking brake from accidentally disengaging.

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) notified the commonwealth’s 132 school divisions in early May that as many as 4,000 school buses may need retrofitting to install a safety device that prevents the parking brake from accidentally disengaging.

The VDOE press release cited the device — a brake interlock — is required in Virginia on all buses with automatic transmissions purchased after March 24, 2011, when the mechanism was added to the state Board of Education’s minimum specifications for school buses.

“On buses equipped with a brake interlock, it is not possible to release the parking brake without first depressing the brake pedal,” officials said in the release.

Lunenburg County Public Schools’ Supervisor of Maintenance and Transportation Jay Strawser said the county was not affected by the issue.

“The buses we have already have that on there,” Strawser said.

The VDOE release cited that the retrofitting of the non-compliant buses will come at no expense to the school divisions.

Dr. Leonard Nancy, division superintendent of Charlotte County Public Schools, said the division’s transportation department is currently evaluating their buses.

“We have been impacted by this memo and I will know more in a few days on the exact number of buses and what needs to be done to address this issue,” Leonard said regarding the VDOE release.

According to Buckingham County Public Schools Division Superintendent Dr. Cecil Snead, eight buses have been affected out of the division’s fleet of 42 by the issue. He said the division’s transportation director has already scheduled the appropriate retrofits.

“The retrofits will be complete in the near future and well prior to the opening of school in August,” Snead said.

Cumberland County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Dr. Chip Jones said the division has five buses that are affected by the parking brake interlock system.

“We are working with Sonny Merryman, (a) bus dealership, to get the issue fixed,” Jones said.

According to the press release, unlike most passenger vehicles with automatic transmissions, school bus transmissions do not have a “park” setting.

“After stopping the bus, the driver places the bus in neutral, and then pulls the parking brake valve on the dashboard. Without the interlock, the parking brake could accidentally disengage — for example, if a student were to slip and inadvertently fall against the brake valve,” officials said in the release.

“The safety of students is the department’s highest priority,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples, “and the department will work with school divisions, manufacturers and school bus dealers to make sure that all non-compliant buses are brought into full compliance with the state Board of Education’s equipment specifications as quickly as possible.”