Editorial: Action needed to protect parish’s schoolchildren

Three high-profile student transportation incidents in recent months should have Calcasieu Parish parents worried — and should

have school officials scrambling for responsible remedies:

• On Monday morning, State Police

arrested a substitute bus driver, speeding and weaving on La. 27, for

drunken driving, minutes

after he completed his bus routes transporting 49 Calcasieu

schoolchildren. The driver’s level of intoxication was measured

at more than twice the legal limit, 0.211.

• In December, a day-care bus drove away from a Calcasieu elementary school with a 6-year-old child who was not supposed to

be on the vehicle. Four frenzied hours later, the child was returned to his worried parents. The school has amended how it

oversees children awaiting buses home.

• In October, a Calcasieu bus driver,

acting at the direction of the dance team sponsor, left behind — and

alone — a Washington-Marion

High freshman at Walmart in Lake Charles. The dance team sponsor

had had a harsh exchange with the student. School officials

say they took action, but refused to say how publicly.

In the latter two cases, a single child was imperiled or might have been imperiled when representatives of the schools either

left or lost them. That’s risky enough.

In this week’s incident, though, the health and safety of more than four dozen students were at stake. Parents should expect

the school system to show great interest in making sure the incident is not repeated.

First, on the face of things, the

schools are not necessarily at fault in this latest incident. Substitute

driver Matthew

Oliver Richard, 26, was hired temporarily while the school system

awaited results of his background check. That’s OK, according

to state law and school system policy.

But plenty did go wrong, no matter who

is to blame. Forty-nine schoolchildren under 12 were left in the care of

an apparently

impaired man, and the results of his background check might have

sounded a clear warning to school officials before they handed

Richard the keys to a bus.

Calcasieu School Board chairman R.L.

Webb knows how close this call was. “We were lucky that he was able to

unload those children

before he created a real problem, such as wrecking the bus,” Webb

said. He is right. A drunken driver with 49 passengers makes

for a deadly mix.

Webb said he would try to meet with Calcasieu Superintendent Wayne Savoy today to discuss school policy. Good idea.

Webb said he would like to see background checks completed before potential employees begin work. That’s a very good idea.

In this case, Calcasieu board policy should be more stringent than state law.

Worried Calcasieu parents should have some questions about this incident. School officials should find the right answers.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney,

Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.