Columbus Public Schools Re-Open After Bus Debacle.

Columbus Public School students resumed classwork today after a day off because of a lack of bus drivers. Classes were canceled Thursday because a company that provides school bus drivers for the district halted its operation. The company, First Student, took the action because it failed to conduct background checks on its drivers.

The problem began earlier in the week, when a driver contracted by First Student, was arrested for having a syringe filled with cocaine on the bus with him. It turns out the driver had three DUI convictions which would have disqualified him as a school bus driver. Background checks failed to uncover the 20-year-old convictions. Then Wednesday First Student discovered it had not completed the background checks on any of its drivers. Columbus Public Schools Superintendent Gene Harris said the company found the paperwork in a desk drawer.

“They sidelined their buses after they discovered that they had not fulfilled their obligation which is in the contract which is to do background checks,” Harris said.

Harris said it was not the responsibility of the school system to complete the background checks. But CPS Transportation Director Eric Pinkett said he should have noticed First Student had not turned in those forms at the start of the school year.

“I have to take responsibility. It’s my department, and we didn’t get that information from First Student this year,” Pinkett said.

Pinkett said he made that discovery late Thursday night.

Repeated calls to First Student were not returned.

It turns out, First Student had not done background checks since 2004. The State Attorney General’s office and the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation joined the Columbus Public Schools to expedite the checks.

Attorney General Mark Dann said, “We have now completed processing of 61 background checks as requested by the CPS. Fifty-six of those indicate that the drivers can go immediately back to work.”

Dann said further information is needed on five other drivers before they can return to work.

While students may have enjoyed the day off, it was a major inconvenience for many parents. Even though school officals first learned of the problem at 7 o’clock Wednesday night, it did not cancel classes until 6 o’clock Thursday morning. Cathy Treyens, of Columbus, did not find out her step-daughter’s school was closed until her husband called her at work.

“We had to scramble to cover our step-daughter. Luckily because of the cooperation with parents, Carrie was able to stay at her mom’s house, and then I could leave work early at noon and then pick her up,” Treyens said.

While Treyens had to make quick accommodations, Mary Macarse, of Columbus, was a little more fortunate.

“My husband called me as we were walking out the door and said I think it might be closed,” Macarse said.

While Macarse was able to stay home with her kids, she said she thought about all the other parents who had to go to work.

First Student also provides bus service for other Ohio cities, including Cincinnati and Loraine. The Attorney General’s office has sent notices to those systems.

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