SALUDA COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Concerning video coming out of Saluda County shows students, standing in the middle of the bus aisle on a moving school bus that is seemingly overcrowded.
Standing on a school bus is against school bus code in South Carolina.
Tony Turner, whose daughter attends school in the district shared the video she recorded in hopes that something will be done to address the safety issue.
Turner says the kids have been having to stand on the bus since the beginning of the year. He says they have reached out to the district and have not seen change.
“It’s still happening every day and we’re concerned for our children’s safety so that should be our main priority when it comes to our children is their safety. And if we can’t feel safe enough with our kids riding the school bus, you know something needs to change,” said Turner.
He says this is taking place on the ride home from school. The students standing, are waiting for other kids to leave just so they can sit down. It’s a process he says takes about 20 minutes.
“My daughter has come home and told me, she said ‘dad, I don’t feel safe standing up in this centered aisle. We’re going down the road at 50 miles standing up and there’s ten kids at a time.’”
For Turner, Friday’s school bus crash in Greenwood County is especially concerning, given the current situation in Saluda County.
“I mean Greenwood County is our neighboring county, we’re right besides and the first thing my wife said is. What if that would’ve been our daughter? What if that would’ve been other children? Standing up in the isles and crashed like that, I mean the outcome might’ve been worse than what it was. I don’t want to ever see that happen to any of our children,” Turner said.
WIS brought the video directly to the Harvey Livingston, the Saluda County Superintendent, but we found out this is not the only issue the school district is dealing with.
Livingston says it is the first time they have seen the video and it was something they were now investigating.
Turner believes the kids are having to stand because of another larger issue the district is facing: a school bus driver shortage.
“There’s a bus [driver] shortage across the state as everybody knows, Saluda, Lex 1, Lex 5, Newberry, everybody,” Livingston said.
The shortage has caused the district to make adjustments and consolidate routes.
Why does this shortage exist? Officials said driver pay, some have retired and one of the bus drivers had a heart attack this year.
When we spoke with Livingston on Monday, he was in Greenwood to take school bus classes. At this point, Livingston says he is in the running to drive a school bus.
“To be able to get my school bus license back so that when we are short-handed, I myself can step in whenever needed,” Livingston said.
We asked if there was a fix with the state of education and what is going on?
“That’s a good question. Obviously funding and salaries. That’s going to be one of the first things that people bring up. We are a rural district our bus driver pay is not as competitive,” said Livingston.
Livingston says he has looked for ways to increase salaries for drivers during this fiscal year.
“We’re doing all we can do right now,” Livingston said.
Livingston says they are recruiting candidates at this moment to try and fill in the gaps. He believes there are 2 possible candidates now.
WIS followed up with Superintendent Harvey Livingston a day after the story aired. We asked him about the bus specifically in the video, he replied by saying it has been:
“Near capacity most days this school years. From my primary investigation students have not always been cooperative with other students to provide extra room. To address the problem immediately, I am going to ask a few of our teachers/coaches who have their school bus certificate to drive a route so that we can make an adjustment to this route and others if needed to decrease the student load until additional bus drivers are hired. I will hopefully have my certificate within a few weeks, so that I can assist as well.”
When asked if the standing problem has been fixed, Livingston replied by saying:
"Since student load counts can vary from day to day, our school and district administrators have been instructed to conduct safety checks on every bus before they departs to ensure that all students are seated. As we bring additional drivers on, we will be able to make additional route adjustments to help reduce student load on buses and eliminate some of the consolidated routes.”
Livingston says he is also looking to make adjustments to make the bus driver salary schedule more competitive with neighboring districts.