On the cover of our May magazine edition, we posed the question: "Are fire suppression systems coming to school buses?" Student transporters across the nation are hoping a four-part expose published this week by the Chicago Tribune on the organization behind these legislative attempts douses those fires.
Nevada passed legislation last year spearheaded by the Citizens for Fire Safety, a group founded in 2007 as "a coalition of fire professionals, educators, community activists, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders." But as Tribune writers Patricia Callahan and Sam Roe report, in fact Citizens for Fire Safety are completely funded by chemical makers Albemarle, Chemtura Corp. and ICL Industrial Products. The writers allege that the companies took a page from Big Tobacco playbook to buy off experts in certain fire-related fields to falsify evidence given to legislative committees in an attempt to either kill a bill that would be damaging to business interests (California) or that would mandate the use of their products in school buses to suppress fires (Illinois, Maryland and Nevada).
The report comes on the heels of the STN magazine cover story this month on how the industry is responding to legislative attempts by Citizens for Fire Safety, most notably in Maryland, where a bill failed to get out of committee for the second straight year. The School Bus Manufacturers Technical Council even published a white paper last fall on flammability standards for school buses in an attempt to combat what it deemed negative testimony being given to state legislative committees on school bus safety.
Meanwhile, Leon Langley, state director of student transportation for Maryland, said Citizens for Fire Safety has publicly stated that it won't give up.
Even as the South Carolina General Assembly recently voted to table the latest bill that would turn over the state-run fleet of school buses to local county school districts and to form a study group to look into the issue, the retired state director of pupil transportation services told media this week that the vehicles in question are older than some school buses being used in South America.
Donald Tudor, who retired last September and is now a consultant to the industry, told the Greenvile County Public Schools board that many of the 5,600 school buses owned by South Carolina have driven more than 500,000 miles.
Mostly everyone knows the classic children’s song "The Wheels on the Bus," but what about "The Wheels on the Tractor?"
Well, the tractor isn’t the official school bus for Auburndale High School in Wisconsin, but many students there were able to proudly show off their family’s tractor when they participated in the school’s annual “Bring Your Tractor to School” day, as reported in a CNN article. Auburndale is a farming community where students show great pride in their agricultural heritage, making this event popular with everyone involved.
Now in its fifth year, students parade these machines through town and stop at an elementary school to impress the kids — it’s never too soon to influence the next generation. The students then return to the high school where the tractors are parked for viewing. Even tractor-shaped cookies are sold at lunchtime in honor of this event. Proceeds from the cookie sales will help pay for a student trip to the Washington Leadership Conference in June or July.
From the farmlands of Wisconsin to the village of Bagan Sungai Kajang in Malaysia, young students in the Southeast Asian country don’t ride a school bus but rather a fishing boat. About 90 students from the village don their government-provided life jackets and board a fishing boat to cross a river to attend school. Their own village does not have a school.
An article said villagers have been taking the boat to school for the past 60 years, and that there are four boats making a total of seven trips to the school. There have been incidents of students accidentally falling into the river, but luckily no one has ever drowned. Still, parents teach their kids life-saving swimming skills, which, to the students, is simply a way of living.
You don't have to go a half a world away to find similar student transportation modes in play, as some indigenous communities in northern Canada and in Alaska have been known to use canoes or other boats to get kids to and from school.
A 16-year-old teen, Jonny Cohen, has started a project called GreenShields with the objective of helping school buses to run cleaner by using plexiglass shields erected on the sides of the vehicles to make them more aerodynamic and fuel efficient. He wrote a blog for the Huffington Post that describes how he received a $25,000 grant from Pepsi and was contacted by Chicago-area school bus contractor Cook-Illinois Corporation so he could work on an actual school bus. Stay tuned for more.