By STEVEN NALLEY
The Oktibbeha County School Board voted Tuesday to extend its drug and alcohol testing policy for school bus drivers to include drivers of all district-owned vehicles and to strengthen enforcement of state statutes governing speed limits for bus drivers.
James Covington, OCSD superintendent, said the drug and alcohol testing policy previously only required bus drivers to take a drug test during the pre-employment phase and at random intervals afterward.
“Once we hire them, periodically the testing agency will send us a list of names for random drug testing,” Covington said. “We’ve extended the program to also include those drivers who are assigned to drive a district-owned vehicle, such as our maintenance trucks.”
When Covington introduced the item, members of the board, including Melvin Harris, asked if drug testing extended to teachers and other faculty and staff as well.
“I think if anybody in the school system does anything unreal, (he or she) ought to be drug tested, too,” Harris said.
Covington then said the district needed a reason related to safety before instituting a drug and alcohol testing policy, and Bennie Jones, OCSD attorney, explained further. Testing drivers ensures they do not endanger children by driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, Jones said, and without such a safety issue as a basis, a drug and alcohol testing policy would face constitutional issues.
“It’s similar to the testing of children,” Jones said. “If they participate in extracurricular activities, then they’re subject to being tested. If they don’t participate in extracurricular activities, they are not subject to being tested. Whenever you analogize that to the staff, it would be necessary for the staff who drive vehicles. You would run into a constitutional issue about the reasonableness of the testing if you just make it generally applicable to anybody. You don’t have any designated basis for doing that.”
Jones said there is no state law in Mississippi that mandates drug and alcohol testing for all school faculty and staff. Curtis Snell, OCSD board president, then asked Jones to come back at the next meeting with research on avenues for instituting drug and alcohol testing for all OCSD employees.
The board also voted to strengthen its enforcement of speed limits for bus drivers after Covington reported on Mississippi statutes governing those speed limits. Covington said he had been asked to investigate the laws in light of reports of bus drivers receiving speeding tickets, and he said he found Mississippi Code Section 37-41-47:
“It shall be unlawful for a driver of any school bus, whether a public or a contract bus, to drive said bus at a speed greater than forty-five (45) miles per hour while transporting children to and from school on regular routes,” the code says. “However, any such driver, while operating a school bus on other authorized trips, shall not drive said school bus at a speed greater than fifty (50) miles per hour. Any person who shall violate the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not less than twenty-five dollars ($25.00) nor more than one hundred dollars ($100.00) for each such offense. In addition thereto, upon such conviction, such driver may be discharged from further employment as a school bus driver or carrier and his contract as such may be terminated.”
Board member Herman Bush said several state troopers across Mississippi were previously unaware of these speed limits until SB 2472 took effect July 1, 2011. The law requires vehicles to stop at least 10 feet from any stopped school bus picking up or dropping off students and remain stopped until children have crossed the street safely and the bus has resumed motion.
State Sen. Chris McDaniel introduced the law in memory of Nathan Key, a 5-year-old killed by a motorist who tried to pass a stopped school bus, earning it the name “Nathan’s Law.”
Bush said he was also familiar with the speed limits from his own work as a bus driver.
“Those things that (Covington) read, I have copies of those in my driver’s book,” Bush said.