Bus drivers, now employed by the city, who drove during the recent summer school session were not drug tested, as per state law, according to school Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet.

Clouet confirmed this information Monday, Aug. 26, after talking with Ken Nappi, who is in charge of the Shelton Student Transportation Service. Clouet said the district is “waiting to review the records of all the drivers and would expect that, according to the request for proposal the city agreed to adhere to, background checks will also be completed.”

The city officially took over control of the school bus transportation operation on July 1, and summer school started on July 9. The regular Shelton school year begins Tuesday, Sept. 3.

“This is unacceptable,” said Clouet.

Mayor Mark Lauretti said there was confusion on the interpretation of the law, since the drivers used for Shelton’s summer school had been drug tested 10 days prior to the city taking over the school bus transportation operation on July 1.

“What was different? These were the same drivers just now driving for us. We did not just pull these (drivers) off the street,” said Lauretti.

Clouet said state law requires that when a new company assumes school bus operations, such as the city did on July 1, that the new company must perform all required drug testing and background checks. Clouet said that Nappi told him all drivers were drug tested on Friday, Aug. 23. At this point, Clouet said, no complaint has been filed, but he is returning to the city bus garage Wednesday, Aug. 28, to inspect all records from the recently completed testing to make sure each driver was adequately screened. Check sheltonherald.com for updates.

“This is all in process now,” said Lauretti. “We knew this was necessary for the start of school. We did not know that it would have been required for summer school, since the drivers had just been drug tested 10 days prior.”

“My focus now is the students and the opening of the school year with as minimum disruption or confusion as possible,” said Clouet. “We will wait until Wednesday to make any decision on our next steps. I do understand that the state is aware of the situation.”

“I remain focused on getting this job done,” said Lauretti on if any contingency plans would be needed for the start of school Sept. 3. “I cannot speculate on what may or may not happen right now. I believe there are people who do not want us to succeed. Shelton taking over the operation projects to have a huge savings for the city, which will make a lot of people look bad.”

This latest bus issue came to light after an individual posted on Facebook that summer school bus drivers had not been subjected to background checks or drug testing.

“Many of us were skeptical about this claim, but the superintendent looked into this, and I can now verify what he said was true,” said Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden. “The extended year bus drivers weren't tested for drugs, and they didn't have background checks as required by law. Following these legal requirements was the responsibility of the city as they are now our transportation provider.”

“We will be keeping a close eye on the effectiveness of the Shelton School Transportation Service moving forward,” said Clouet.

Lauretti said the larger concern is that Durham School Services, which handled student transportation during the last school year, is withholding drivers’ records and offering signing bonuses to lure drivers from the city. At present, Lauretti said the city is 10 drivers short of full staff one week before the start of the school year. Lauretti added that Durham has not returned three buses from the past school year, and in response the city has withheld money owed to Durham.

Durham School Services’ media representative Ed Flavin said his company does not have any agreement in place with the city of Shelton.

“On Friday, May 22, we posted our WARN notice that we would be closing our office. We then exited our office in Shelton, in good standing on Friday, June 28, 2019. We enjoyed serving the Shelton schools and the overall community,” said Flavin.

Regarding luring drivers, Flavin said Durham employs thousands of drivers in communities throughout the United States, and “we are always looking at ways to attract great drivers.”

Flavin said Durham repaired and returned the three buses, of which Lauretti was referring, to the city on Friday, Aug. 23, with purchase orders completed and Durham’s obligations being met. Regarding withholding drivers’ records, Flavin said that is not true.

“We just received a written request from the city of Shelton on Wednesday of last week,” said Flavin, “and we will provide all records to the drivers who will now work for the city of Shelton.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com