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School bus driver uniforms used for security

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The color red is used to represent several things.

Around Valentine's Day, it is used to represent love. In traffic, a red light means a vehicle should stop moving.

On Clayton County school busses, the color represents authority and security.

Two years ago, the school system's transportation department began a phased-implementation of a uniform dress code for school bus drivers and monitors. It began with red polo shirts, which bear the transportation department's logo on the left chest. The department is now preparing to introduce khaki pants, and blue wind breakers as the remaining portions of the uniform.

"Back in 2006, the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigations] issued a warning that school busses may become targets for terrorists," said John Lyles, the school system's transportation director. "At that time, we began to implement several plans to make sure our children were safe on their school buses."

The school system employs 500 bus drivers and monitors, Lyles said, and is paying $70,000 for the uniforms, which will be leased to the drivers and monitors. Bus drivers and monitors for Atlanta and DeKalb County schools also wear uniforms, he said.

The drivers and monitors will be provided with one week's worth of uniforms. They will have the wind breakers only in the winter months, and will have to return the jackets to department officials when the temperatures rise.

"It makes it easy to quickly identify a team member in case of an emergency," Lyles said. "It also allows parents, teachers, administrators and students to know who is in charge. The students also know if someone who isn't wearing one of these shirts gets on the bus and sits in the drivers seat, then something is wrong."

He said the uniforms are part of a more than $100,000 project approved by the Clayton County Board of Education in 2006 to improve security on school busses.

"It's hard to put a price tag on safety, especially in the times we're living in," he said. "We should always place student safety at the same level with student achievement."

Lyles said -- for security reasons -- he did not want to discuss all of the measures his department is taking to make school busses more secure.

However, in addition to the uniforms, the department now does background checks on all employees, and cameras have been installed on school busses.

Superintendent John Thompson said the uniforms can be an asset to the community, because they can reassure parents, who take their children to bus stops in the morning. The superintendent said the district has taken other measures to improve security, on and off, the school bus, including the installation of metal detectors in the county's eight high schools.

"Anytime we can add one more inch of security for these kids, then it's worth it," Thompson said.

Letaunya Lawrence, a bus driver for Clayton County Schools since October 2007, said aside from not having to worry about what she will wear to work in the morning, the uniforms help her stand out for children. She also said it helps her students embrace uniform dress.

All elementary school students, and sixth-graders, and many seventh-, and eighth-grade students are required to wear uniforms to school.

"They like seeing me wearing a uniform, because it makes them feel more comfortable about having to wear uniforms themselves," Lawrence said.