A school bus accident this summer in which the driver was found to have 190 traffic violations highlighted serious questions about the safety of the thousands of Jerusalem children who ride school buses. Joint regulations governing school bus transportation from September 1, 2006, of the Education and Transportation ministries appear on a printed card for parents (see box). In Jerusalem decided to go out in the field to see how these regulations were being applied. On September 19 at 3:15 p.m., IJ stood on the sidewalk in front of the AMIT Dror Elementary School in Beit Hakerem to watch the children getting on the school transportation vehicles. The scene was chaotic as some 10 minibuses from at least eight different companies pulled up to pick up children rushing out of the school. None of the buses had signs indicating their destination. Instead, the children, who ranged in age from six to 12, had to go from bus to bus to ask where each bus was going. There was no adult supervision of this process. None of the vehicles had the special "children" sign or the special lights, although all were equipped with seat belts. One vehicle looked more than 10 years old but without the authority to check vehicle licenses it was impossible to know. IJ also had no authority to check if the drivers held special school transportation licenses. Almost none of the children buckled up. One girl, who recently arrived in Israel from North America, said that she and her brother were the only ones using seat belts on their minibus. She said most of the time the seat belts were tucked under the seat cushions and she had to fish them out. Also, she said the seats often had chewing gum stuck on them. IJ observed several of the minibuses pulling away from the curb with children standing in the aisles. "Unfortunately, there is no one - not in Manhi [the Jerusalem Education Administration], the Education and Transportation ministries or the municipality - who checks if school transportation vehicles meet standards or if the drivers are properly licensed without numerous traffic violations," says Etti Binyamin, head of the Jerusalem Parents Association. "Also, no official is responsible for seeing that the children are wearing seat belts or are seated while the vehicle is moving," she says. "Plus, in special education, no one checks if the accompanying adult is trained or qualified. "Pure and simple - no one checks anything. That is the problem. Everyone does whatever he wants." According to Binyamin, in the state schools and state religious schools, Manhi is responsible for signing transportation contracts with the various companies. In the haredi education system, this is often left to the individual schools. Every transportation company that receives a school transportation contract is responsible for making sure that its vehicles and drivers meet contract requirements. The companies are also responsible for hiring an accompanying adult when required. But no outside official body ever really checks. Legally, the drivers are not responsible for verifying that the children are wearing their seat belts. On their regulations card, the Education and Transportation ministries state that it is the parents' responsibility to teach their children how to buckle and unbuckle the belt and to impress upon them the importance of using seat belts. The municipality, when asked about who is responsible for enforcing compliance, replied: "A detailed contract is signed with every transportation company, including all the conditions and obligations every company must meet. The contract contains all Ministry of Education and Ministry of Transportation requirements as well as those of the municipality. Sanctions will be taken in accordance with the contract against companies that violate these conditions." Since last Purim, Leah Amdur has been taking her seven-year-old son, Shayale, who has Down syndrome, to school on public buses after discovering that no one was attaching his special car seat to the school transportation vehicle. "Last year, I took a ride back from school on the school minivan along with my son," she recalls. "I was horrified to find out that the seat belts were not being used - not for my son nor for any of the other children. My son cannot strap himself in and no one was securing his seat. The accompanying adult, a young woman, did not understand it to be her duty to secure him in his seat. She sat with my son in the special seat simply holding on to it, without securing it with seat belts. After that, I stopped sending my son with the school transport." Amdur complained to the school, she called the bus company and she wrote letters to the municipality. The school said it was not its responsibility and told her to talk to the transport company; the transport company told her everything was fine and if not, to sue it; and at the municipality, an official from the haredi education department told her: "Our only function is to pay the subsidy to the school for transportation. We have no control over what goes on." "As usual, no one is responsible and our children fall through the cracks," says Amdur. "Everyone is passing the buck. The system doesn't work. This is especially true in the haredi sector, where people often do not drive and do not watch TV, and therefore are not aware that seat belts are necessary because Egged doesn't have them." Nevertheless, the picture is not all bleak. The day after IJ was at Dror and the school was made aware of the transportation problems, the principal came out to see what was going on. Since then, someone from the school has been present every afternoon to supervise and parents have been invited to meet with the school to discuss ways to improve school transportation safety and lessen the chaos. Also, since this summer's school bus accident, city council opposition leader Nir Barkat has been pushing the municipality for answers, and his aides are gathering information and complaints concerning school transportation. They can be reached at 629-5332.

Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin

Think others should know about this? Please share