Waking up as early as 4:30 a.m., 64 bus drivers venture out for Orangeburg Consolidated School District Five, transporting 6,000 students over some 5,000 miles every single school day.
Their workday doesn’t end until every last child in the district has made it safely home.
And since consolidation in 1997, those drivers have had a clean record, the district’s Transportation Supervisor Carolyn Schwichtenberg said. While there may have been accidents involving school buses, none of those have been the fault of OCSD Five bus drivers.
Because of what Schwichtenberg calls their “conscientious, cautious, caring, patient and diligent” service to the district and its students, District Five bus drivers have been honored for exemplifying Orangeburg County Community of Character’s September trait: safety.
“You have to love your job to do all those things,” said special services driver Gladys Gardner, who has been a driver with the district for the last four years.
She said safety is an extremely important aspect of the job, and sometimes the public can make it difficult.
“When you’re driving a bus, you have to be doubly defensive,” Gardner said.
One of the most common laws she sees broken by the public is running the stop arm and caution lights that alert vehicles of an upcoming bus stop.
“They just need to take time and be more cautious,” Schwichtenberg said of the public.
Another driver with the district, Ivorylen Keller, who also serves as secretary to transportation, agreed.
“You’re driving for yourself and for traffic,” she said. “The public should be more courteous.”
According to South Carolina law, motorists must always stop for a bus:
n When traveling behind a bus with flashing amber or red lights, whether on a road with two, four or more lanes.
n When approaching a stopped school bus with flashing red lights from the opposite direction on a two-lane road. However, drivers do not have to stop, but should slow down and proceed with caution, when they meet a stopped school bus while traveling in the opposite direction on a highway or private road with four or more lanes.
Drivers should not proceed until the bus resumes motion or the flashing red lights have been turned off. Passing a stopped school bus could result in a $1,000 fine and up to 30 days in jail for the first offense.
“I think this is the best time in the world to commend them (bus drivers) for their job,” Schwichtenberg said, adding that the beginning of the school year is also an ideal time to remind the public of laws governing school bus stops.
Drivers also deal with quite a few discipline problems they have to keep under control in order to maintain on-bus safety, and school administrators are helpful in taking care of those issues, Schwichtenberg said. Some of those problems should be alleviated with two-way communication devices and state-of-the-art cameras, which are included in this year’s district budget.
She said drivers in OCSD Five have an extremely high attendance rate, and several of them have additional duties in the district.
“I love my job. I really do,” Keller said. “We work with a good group of people. I hate when the summers come.”
Gardner said she also enjoys her job, the cooperation in the transportation office, especially Schwichtenberg, and the help of monitors on the special services buses. “When it comes to safety … you can’t be under stress,” she said. “It becomes challenging at times, but I like challenges.”