Parents in Shelby County have worried for years about Durham’s poor safety record and negligence when it comes to training bus drivers – and with good reason. Durham buses were involved in nearly 300 accidents between 2012 and 2015, including one in which a driver was without a license, and another involving a child that was struck by a car after being forced to bike to school when his bus left him behind. An audit in Shelby County found that more than 60 drivers hadn’t been properly tested to a standard acceptable to the state.
Durham has refused to implement long-term fixes even after safety and administrative problems became public. Although Durham brought in a new regional manager who drove down the accident rate in the 2015-2016 school year, his abrupt departure in 2016 left parents uncertain whether their children would remain safe on Durham buses. After the staff change, Shelby County PTA President Nina Ophelia-Booker blasted the company, saying: “We cannot allow [Durham] to keep transporting our children, and they’re not safe[…]Are our parents going to be aware of any discrepancies, anything that will tell us that something is going wrong?”
That same school year, Durham School Services lost $675,000 in performance bonuses for failing to meet on-time arrival and driver surplus benchmarks in the 2015-16 school year.
Now, Durham’s lackadaisical approach to child safety may be catching up to it. A lawsuit by a Shelby County school bus safety inspector alleges Durham was willfully ignorant and dismissive of serious safety and maintenance problems brought to it by drivers and school officials like herself, and the mother of the child struck by a car when biking to school is suing Durham for $14 million in damages.