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State School Board Toughens Bus Driver Regs

Tuesday's 18-to-zero vote by the state board of education continues a process that was prompted by the arrest of former driver Lawrence Battle. Columbus police say they found him with a cocaine-filled syringe. Battle's background qualifications had apparently not been checked.

Under new school board regulations, privately employed drivers like Battle will now report to the education department as they have to the Department of Public Safety. Pupil transportation director Pete Japikse says that allows the board oversight it has not had before.

"We as a state department, we as a government don't employ these individuals," he says. "They work for a local employer. The obligation in the law is very clear. Both the employers and the school district have to make sure that the drivers are qualified. What we want to do is spot check to make sure that's happening.

Japikse says his office is working with the Department of Public Safety, the attorney general and members of the legislature to determine how best to enforce the new proposal.

"Enforcement can take a couple of deferent options," Japikse says. "Sometimes you have to have authority given through law. Ultimately the goal is not to issue penalties, not to shut people down; our goal is to make sure that everybody buys into the rules and regulations and follows them. 30 days down the road we may have some more concrete ideas and we'll share those with the state board, get their ideas, and at that point we'll take direction."

The process will include several public meetings. Japikse says local districts may enforce their own tougher standards if they so choose.