PRESS RELEASE - November 18, 2003
New Mexico Public Education Department
300 Don Gaspar
Santa Fe, NM 87501-2786

Ruth Williams
Public Outreach Director
(505) 476-0393

Secretary of Education Forms School Bus Safety Task Force

(Santa Fe, NM)--Secretary of Education Dr. Veronica C. Garcia today formed the School Bus Safety Task Force to immediately meet and bring recommendations to her regarding school bus safety. Dr. Garcia formed the task force in response to recent allegations that an Edgewood elementary school bus driver was driving drunk.

“Our school buses transport our most precious cargo and must be as safe as possible. It has come to my attention that we have a gap in meeting requirements in the area of detecting reasonable suspicion of drug or alcohol use. We must immediately ensure that bus contractors and districts are aware of this requirement,” said Secretary Garcia. “I strongly urge school districts starting today to aggressively review federal and state regulations and communicate the need for strict adherence of these to their school bus operators.”

Members of the task force, to be named, include school district superintendents and transportation directors, local school board members, parents and representatives of the New Mexico Public School Insurance Authority.

In addition, Secretary Garcia directed Gilbert Perea, the state transportation director, to immediately contact the Moriarty Municipal Schools regarding its requirements of Plant Transportation Company, the contractor for the district’s school buses. “This contractor, as well as all school bus contractors and districts, must comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act and close any gaps in the area of reasonable suspicion,” she said. She also directed him to develop best practices for detecting drug or alcohol use in school bus drivers for distribution to school districts throughout the state.

Secretary Garcia said she would review the issue of school bus safety before the New Mexico Public Education Commission, which is meeting in Santa Fe at the New Mexico Public Education Department on Wednesday, November 19, from 8:00 a.m. to noon.

“New Mexico school buses have one of the best safety records nationwide. They are required to be inspected two times each year and school bus drivers must complete extensive annual training programs and conduct daily pre-trip inspections,” she said. “But with this allegation and another in Cuba in 2002, it is time to put everything on the table, from hiring practices to bus driver benefits, in order to ensure that high-quality bus drivers are on all school buses.”