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Hall, Gainesville school officials say bus drivers are trained well
Hall County Schools bus driver Karen Pass gives her bus a visual inspection around the exterior before leaving the bus shop for her afternoon shift Thursday afternoon in Oakwood.

Local school transportation officials say parents of Hall County and Gainesville students should feel reassured about their children's commute to school following a fatal bus crash earlier this week.

"Parents should know we take safety issues very seriously," said Jerry Castleberry, Gainesville schools director of transportation.

After Monday's deadly school bus crash in Carroll County, an examination found that training for school bus drivers varied significantly across the state.

The training requirements ranged from 24 to 120 hours, depending on the school district, the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The issue arose after a 17-year-old was killed and 13 students were injured in a wreck Monday. A trainee was reportedly behind the wheel.

The state Board of Education requires bus drivers have at least 12 hours of classroom training, six hours of driving an empty bus and six hours of driving students with a trainer.

Jewel Armour, Hall County Schools' executive director of operations, said bus drivers receive more than the minimum of 24 hours of training.

"It depends on the skill level of the driver," he said.
School bus drivers are evaluated after each phase and are given more hours of training in areas that need improvement, he added.

As they train, bus drivers learn skills such as expressway driving and emergency stops.

Drivers in Georgia also must receive three certifications: a commercial license, a certification to drive a school bus and a certification to carry more than 16 passengers.

Armour said starting last year, the district began giving drivers an annual driving evaluation.

"A person rides every bus and evaluates the driver's habits," Armour said. "The evaluator has driven a bus before and knows what to look for. If there are problems, we have them do more training."

Another way local transportation departments are keeping buses safe is with proper screening, including criminal background checks and Motor Vehicle Reports. If a driver has multiple violations in a personal vehicle, their commercial license is suspended.

"They're also eventually fingerprinted for an FBI check," Armour said.

Hall County Schools has 225 bus routes and Gainesville City Schools includes 38. Castleberry said buses undergo a state inspection each year and a monthly inspection by mechanics.

In Monday's crash, the Carroll County school district reported driver Kenneth Ross Herringdine was driving with a temporary school bus driver's license and was under the supervision of a trainer at the time of the accident.

The crash killed "Ray Ray" Rashawn Walker, a student at Temple High School in Carrol County.

Carroll County investigators are trying to determine the cause of the wreck.

Castleberry said it was an unfortunate accident and he feels for the people of Carroll County.

Armour said being a bus driver can be a difficult job, but he believes local students are in good hands.

"We do the best we can do to put people out there that are going to be good drivers," Armour said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.