UPDATE: Hamilton Co. schools and THP announce bus safety plan
Hamilton County Department of Education and the Tennessee Highway Patrol announced a plan to ensure safety of school bus passengers, Monday.
A multi-agency partnership to enhance safety on school buses in Hamilton County kicked off Tuesday morning.
Channel 3 has learned there was an "increased visible presence" of THP troopers on buses for the ride to and from school.
The Hamilton County Department of Education and the Tennessee Highway Patrol announced the plan to put monitors on school buses during a news conference Monday afternoon.
The program is a partnership between the school district, THP, the Chattanooga Police Department and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department.
The decision comes after the deadly Woodmore Elementary School bus crash that killed six children and injured several others last November.
On Tuesday afternoon, a THP cruiser could be seen from the street waiting outside Woodmore Elementary School at pick-up time.
Many parents say they think the safety plan is a step in the right direction.
"I think any parent will want that precaution for their kids. It is a good idea," said Ryan Rivers.
Rivers has a young daughter who rides a Hamilton County school bus everyday and he says the new plan gives him peace of mind.
THP troopers are focusing initially on the Woodmore route. The Hamilton County Sheriff's Department and the Chattanooga Police Department will follow buses on other routes.
Deputies following buses will be doing so as part of their daily activities and no additional manpower will be hired. The department will participate as officer availability allows, according to a spokesperson.
A spokesperson for the Chattanooga Police Department says there will be no additional cost to taxpayers for the safety initiative and the department has committed patrol officers and officers from its traffic unit as regular scheduling permits.
The monitors will keep an eye on school buses and they'll also be looking for other drivers breaking the law.
Many violations occur each day involving drivers not stopping when the school bus arm is extended with the stop sign displayed. Most of those violations are happening on four-lane highways, according to a spokesperson with the Hamilton County Department of Education.
The safety initiative will continue through March, April and May.
PREVIOUS STORY: Hamilton County Department of Education and the Tennessee Highway Patrol announced a plan to ensure safety of school bus passengers, Monday.
THP, Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, and Chattanooga Police will ride and follow Woodmore Elementary School bus routes as well as other random routes in Hamilton County.
"The safety and well-being of our students is always our number one priority. We are so appreciative our partners in law enforcement are just as committed to the safety of our students," said Interim Hamilton County Superintendent, Dr. Kirk Kelly
THP troopers will focus initially on the Woodmore route, with CPD officers and HCSO deputies riding and or following other Hamilton County school bus routes as schedules and personnel allow. The initiative will take place during the months of march, April, and May.
Kelly explained the officer's monitoring will be done at random.
"We want to make sure that we have them covered, but we don't want to say that hey we're gonna be on these buses on this road, on this given day."
It takes 240 buses to transport 20,000 Hamilton County students to and from school each day. Those buses travel 19,000 miles everyday, and 3.5 million miles every year.
"There's a lot to be done. We know that we can't follow every school bus as we said there's more than 200 out there, but we can do our part when we have THP, and city officers and county officers out here everyday," said Hamilton County Sheriff, Jim Hammond.
Each agency is footing the bill to place officers on buses by adding bus monitoring bus drivers to their shift.
But those officers will also be paying attention to drivers who share the road with buses.
"Roughly about 200 violations [occur] when the buses have their stop arms out. There are people that just simply ignore [it], and so that puts everybody at risk," said Kelly.
While state troopers have kept an eye on school buses in the past, Lt. John Harmon said they now plan to do so more aggressively in the public eye.
"It is a regular thing that the Tennessee Highway Patrol has been doing at Hamilton County, you just didn't know it. We just randomly ride those buses or follow those buses," said Harmon. "You're gonna see more visibility out there from law enforcement behind the school buses and we want everyone in the community to know that we're riding those school buses so they better be on their best behavior."
The multi-agency effort will be evaluated by administration officials weekly, and will eventually be used to determine whether the monitors are needed again next year.
The new safety measures are in addition to the 30 bus monitors Durham School Services will hire.
Durham has hired 10 employees, and five of them are already on the job. The remaining five are in training and undergoing background checks.
Durham and the Hamilton County Department of Education are working together to figure out which routes the monitors will be assigned to.