New safety concerns over private transport of DISD students

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on September 5, 2013 at 5:49 PM

Updated Saturday, Sep 7 at 9:56 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

DALLAS -- While many DISD parents have expressed anxiety about strangers in personal vehicles transporting their children to school, News 8 has uncovered new concerns.

We've been asking if the contract vehicles and drivers transporting DISD children reliable and safe for more than a week and have now started getting answers.

What we are learning is some of the answers are not only incomplete, in some cases, they don’t add up.

Dallas County Schools (DCS), which runs the DISD bus service, assured parents and the media at the start of school last week that all the drivers licensed and screened, and their vehicles properly licensed and maintained. Not only that, but according to DCS Chief of Staff Susan Falvo, the vehicles used by the largest contractor, American Logistics Company (ALC) were all later models.

"2010 is the oldest vehicle that they have,” Falvo said.

But in a spot check of private transport vehicles lined up at William B. Travis Academy Wednesday, it didn't take long for us to find vehicle models of 2005, 2006, and 2007.

ALC officials say while they "strive to utilize the newest cars and vans possible, we have never been asked, nor have we ever committed to provide vehicles that are model year 2010 or newer."

While much of the loading process goes smoothly at Travis Academy, a breakdown began.

Drivers and their coordinator begin to argue about who has what route. Confused students are directed to get out of one van and get into another. One group of students tries to get in another van, only to discover the driver locked the keys inside. The children wait in 100 degree temperatures. The slim jim doesn't work.

Another car and an unfamiliar driver is called to the rescue.

Is the car safe? Is the driver trained?

"The agreement with the third party vendors [is] they have to certify the vehicles are appropriate, they have to certify the drivers are appropriate, and we have also asked for lists from them, which we have gotten,” Falvo said.

We asked Falvo for a copy of that list.

“I can't give you the list,” she said. "We have to run that through legal to do that."

Last week at Harry Stone Montessori, it didn't take long for us to find to find a vehicle whose inspection sticker had expired.

"If you find an inspection sticker that has expired, that private contractor has not done what they have certified to us they would do," Falvo said.

She said each of the three private transportation companies contracting with Dallas County Schools certifies their drivers and vehicles are safe.

"Our fleet manager is also checking vehicles and checking the forms that have been filled out for them that have been turned into us,” Falvo said.

But when News 8 asked Falvo to supply us with the three vendors’ proof of liability insurance, she gave us three certificates of insurance, each of them expired. One of the certificates expired two years ago.

News 8 was able to determine later Thursday that all of the three vendors' liability insurance is actually up to date.

However, one of the vendors is being sued for an incident last April in Tarrant County. According to the allegation in the lawsuit against HMH Executive Coach, "as the children were boarding the bus, a pornographic movie began playing on the bus's several television monitors."

That same company, we have learned, has a grade of "F" with the local Better Business Bureau. Another of our spot checks found and expired inspection sticker on one of the vans.

But most of the vehicles we checked were clean and well kept, the drivers polite and well identified. What has also become evident is that Dallas County Schools appears flexible and receptive to the cacophony of complaints.

"And we've listened and we are changing,” Falvo said. Dallas County Schools says it has run background checks on all of the private drivers.

As for HMH Executive Coach and the allegations of showing pornography to children on the bus, we could not reach them for a comment.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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