Shelton buses running as driver checks continue

Photo of Brian Gioiele
A City of Shelton school bus parked in Shelton, Conn. June 7, 2018.

A City of Shelton school bus parked in Shelton, Conn. June 7, 2018.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

While not all bus drivers records are yet verified, school Superintendent of Schools Dr. Chris Clouet said enough are complete so Shelton students can be driven to Emmett O’Brien Technical High School, Platt Technical High School, Trumbull Vo-Ag and Cooperative Educational Services (CES) beginning Thursday, Aug. 29.

The superintendent refused to speculate on whether Shelton schools will start as scheduled on Tuesday, Sept. 3, saying “I cannot comment on that until after the review of all the records by the state Department of Motor Vehicles is complete. That would not be fair to parents or students.”

Clouet said state DMV officials spent some time today, Wednesday, Aug. 28, at the city bus garage reviewing the records of drivers to be used by the city-operated Shelton School Transportation Service (SSTS). This review became necessary when word broke that the city had not drug tested, as per state law, all summer school bus drivers.

“We’re not quite there yet,” said Clouet, adding that DMV officials will return Thursday, Aug. 29, to hopefully complete the review of the remaining drivers.

“All drivers have to be verified,” Clouet said, “and I hope that will be done by tomorrow.”

Clouet said about a dozen drivers are needed for the bus runs from Shelton to Emmett O’Brien, in Ansonia, Platt Tech in Milford, and Trumbull Vo-Ag and CES, also in Trumbull, and “all have been cleared to drive by DMV.” The school district has listed these bus routes on its website. While all reviews are not yet complete, Clouet said enough has been done to move forward with the bus safety programs at all five elementary schools on Friday, Aug. 30.

DMV has been able to look through records provided by Durham School Services, which handled student transportation for the city during the 2018-19 school year, for those drivers that simply moved from Durham to the city-run service.

Clouet confirmed this information Monday, Aug. 26, after talking with Ken Nappi, SSTS director. 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 is scheduled to begin Tuesday, Sept. 3.

“This is unacceptable,” said Clouet upon learning that the bus drivers had not been drug tested.

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.

“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.”

As of Monday, Lauretti said the city was still short some 10 drivers, and the hiring search continues.

“I remain focused on getting this job done,” said Lauretti regarding any contingency plans that could 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.”