- September 9, 2021
Beginning in August, Flagler County school district students who use wheelchairs will ride in the same school buses as other students.
The district's transportation department is incorporating new inclusive buses into its fleet, transportation director Dontarrious Rowls told the School Board during an information workshop on June 21.
The state-of-the art Type C school bus has lifts to accommodate special-needs students, allowing them to ride with students who walk on to the buses. In the past, the district has used the smaller Type B bus for special-needs students. Type B buses accommodate 30 riders. Type C buses can seat a maximum of 77 elementary-school riders with three students on a bench seat.
"With the inclusive process, we're looking at sending one bus for all of the kids in the neighborhood," Rowls said.
Rowls said the district has purchased two inclusive buses for the 2022 to 2023 school year. The district will continue to provide Type B buses for special-needs students who require a smaller bus, he added.
Rowls also noted that the transportation department is fully staffed for the upcoming school year.
"I don't think there's (another) transportation department in the state that can say that," he said.
The department added 16 drivers since last August and will continue to recruit and advertise for additional drivers, he added.
"We're still recruiting, still bringing people in, because we understand (being fully staffed) can change at any time."
DONTARRIOUS ROWLS, transportation director
"We're still recruiting, still bringing people in, because we understand (being fully staffed) can change at any time," Rowls said.
Rowls attributed the new hires to the board's approval in November of a salary increase for bus drivers.
The transportation department's strategic plan includes reducing the average age of the fleet's buses from 10.4 years to 8.5 years. Sixty of the fleet's 104 buses are 11 to 20 years old with an average total maintenance cost of $289,929 a year, according to a transportation department chart.
Twelve buses are five to 10 years old with an average annual total maintenance cost of $24,808. And 32 buses are one to four years old. The newer buses are still under warranty and have an average total maintenance cost of $62,705 a year. Rowls said there is currently $1.2 million allocated for bus replacement.
Although Rowls wasn't asked directly about the arrest of a Flagler school bus driver who was charged with driving drunk with students aboard his bus, board member Cheryl Massaro asked if there are any practices in place that could identify potential problems.
Rowls said the department has offered additional online training, has scheduled monthly safety meetings and supervisors are more hands-on, taking more ride-alongs with drivers and providing evaluations.
At the monthly meetings they discuss each incident, "how it could could have been handled better and what we should do in the future so that this doesn't happen again," Rowls said.