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Valley district earns “unsatisfactory” rating in annual school bus inspection

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THERMAL, Calif. - The California Highway Patrol visited the Coachella Valley Unified School District the same day News Channel 3's special report Left Behind aired, and the district essentially failed its annual terminal inspection.

Documents obtained by News Channel 3 show the inspection was conducted between June 25-28 and earned the district an "unsatisfactory rating."

Failure to make the recommended fixes before the next inspection could result in criminal or civil charges being filed against the district.

"Left Behind" detailed the ongoing decertification of CVUSD vehicles by the CHP due to the district's failure to comply with the Paul Lee Safety law, mandating most school transportation vehicles in California be installed with child safety alert systems (CSAS) by March 2019.  CVUSD either did not have, or had defective CSAS.

However, terminal inspections, required every 13 months, not only look for CSAS compliance, but other safety and maintenance items like working brakes or lighting, or fire extinguishers on buses and whether drivers are appropriately licensed.

"This is basically a snapshot of their safety management program," said Karen Brown, California Highway Patrol Motor Carrier Specialist.

Read CVUSD's most recent terminal inspection:

The terminal inspection conducted in June of 2019 listed a number of violations which garnered the district the "unsatisfactory" rating including:

  • drivers who didn't accurately report the condition of their vehicles.  For example, a door that was held closed by duct tape, a defective steering system, and CSAS marked as "ok" when in fact they did not work.
  • more than 20 percent of vehicles in the inspection sample were placed out of service. 
  • buses more than 150 days past their mandated inspections.
  • drivers who worked longer than 80 hours during eight consecutive days.
  • a bus driver who transported children to summer school despite recognizing "pre-trip" that the "steering lash was excessive" on that vehicle.  The vehicle was subsequently pulled from service by the district after CHP requested an inspection on it.  

"It is very important to have that communication for a preventative maintenance program to work.  Especially with a critical item such as steering."

CVUSD failed two inspections in a row in 2017, but were given a "satisfactory" rating in 2018.

Transportation Director Apolonio del Toro referred all requests for comment to Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Erik Lee.

The district did not respond to repeated efforts to solicit comment about the "unsatisfactory" rating.

Brooke Beare

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