21 August 2014
Delivered Via Electronic Mail
Mr. Murrell Martin, Transportation Specialist
Utah State Office of Education
250 East Cesar Chavez Boulevard
Salt Lake City, UT 84111-3204
Re: Violation of R277-601-3
Dear Mr. Martin,
On behalf of the residents of Salt Lake City, who elected me to represent them on the Board of Education, I am submitting this complaint for your review.
I have reason to believe that the Salt Lake City School District-Transportation Department, under the direction of Superintendent McKell Withers is in violation Rule R277-601, which, as you are aware is titled: Standards for Utah School Buses and Operations.
On June 2, 2014, two students in the Salt Lake School District were riding Bus #199. They were severely burned when hot pressurized coolant from a ruptured heater sprayed on them.
Rule R277-601-3A states:
“The local board and school district personnel shall act consistent with the manual entitled STANDARDS FOR UTAH SCHOOL BUSES AND OPERATIONS, 2010…”
Page 9 of that document states that Utah has adopted the 2005 National School Transportation Specifications & Procedures (also see Utah R909-3-2 Adoption Standards for Utah School Buses and Operations Standards 2010 Edition).
Page 33 of the 2005 Standards state the following:
Heater hoses shall be adequately supported to guard against excessive wear due to vibration. The hoses shall not dangle or rub against the chassis or any sharp edges and shall not interfere with or restrict the operation of any engine function. Heater hoses shall conform to SAE J20c, Coolant System Hoses. Heater lines on the interior of the bus shall be shielded to prevent scalding of the driver or passengers.
Based on my reading on my reading of Utah Highway Patrol Incident Report: R10307658, the school district did not ensure that the heater hose was:
“adequately supported to guard against excessive wear due to vibration..”
The standard also states the following:
“Heater lines on the interior of the bus shall be shielded to prevent scalding of the driver or passengers…”
When it states “shall”, I detect no ambiguity in the standard, yet students from my neighborhood were scalded with hot pressurized coolant because the hose was not properly “shielded”.
In my capacity of as a member of the Salt City Board of Education, I have corresponded with the Superintendent over the past three months asking that all buses in the school district’s fleet be inspected to ensure that they meet the statutory standard as stated above. To date he has dismissed my request and refuses to give me the assurance that these types of inspections have been carried out.
To that end, I recently filed complaints with the U.S. Department of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (see complaint # 10621988) and the Utah Department of Transportation, Division of Motor Carriers.
I believe that your office along with the Utah Highway Patrol have the Statutory Authority to compel the school district to comply to the standards as set out in Utah statues. See Title 41 of the Utah Code (Department of Transportation):
§41-6-115, states “…The Department of Transportation by and with the advice of the State Board of Education and the Department of Public Safety shall adopt and enforce regulations not inconsistent with this chapter to govern the design and operation of all school buses when owned and operated by any school district…”
Left to his own devices Superintendent McKell Withers of the Salt Lake City School District appears to have no desire to ensure the safety of our students. I prevail on the authority of your office to compel the district to comport itself with Utah Law in this matter and to advise the Board of Education and the public of its progress and compliance in this matter. It is imperative that we assure the parents in my school district that their children are traveling in school buses that are in compliance with Utah Law. Thank you so much for your assistance in this matter.
J. Michael Clára
Board Member, District 2
CC: Lt. G. Willmore, Utah Highway Patrol
THIS IS THE EMAIL RESPONSE I RECEIVED FROM USOE:
Dear Board Member Clara,
Thank you for your phone call yesterday, and for giving me the opportunity to review the Standards for Utah School Buses and Operations as they relate to heater hoses in all Utah school buses. Concerning the incident that took place in the Salt Lake City School District back in June of this year, I have reviewed the Utah Highway Patrol report of the incident, and have also reviewed the details of the incident with Salt Lake City School District School Bus Shop Supervisor Ken Martinez.
I am providing a copy to others who have been included in the emails so they will be up to date on how I am proposing we go forward from my perspectives at the Utah State Office of Education.
With the information available to me, it is my opinion that Salt Lake City School District pupil transportation staff were operating in good faith with the information available to them prior to June 2, 2014, when the heater hose ruptured in such a manner as to direct hot fluid through a 1/16 inch gap between the hose shielding and the interior side wall of the bus.
In perspective, I believe the pupil transportation staff at Salt Lake City School District had every reason to believe that the heater hose shielding on their buses met the requirements of Standards for Utah School Buses and Operations, namely “Heater lines on the interior of the bus shall be shielded to prevent scalding of the driver or passengers.”
I am not aware of any other cases in Utah where heater hoses have ruptured in such a manner as to direct hot fluid through gaps between the hose shielding and the interior side walls of a bus in a way that scalded passengers.
In my opinion, with this case, it is appropriate for Salt Lake City School District to take additional precautions above and beyond what our Standards for Utah School Buses and Operations currently identify.
In reviewing the additional precautions Salt Lake City School District has taken to prevent such future incidents, I have been informed that they have done the following:
- Made sure all their buses, that had recall notices related to heater hoses, were addressed by the bus manufacturer representatives.
- Carefully inspected all their buses and applied sealant to gaps between the shielding and the interior walls to prevent the possibility of a hot stream of fluid from being directed through the gaps.
- Installed caps to any service openings where a hot fluid might be directed into the interior area of the buses.
- Started a program of shutting down bus interior fluid circulation during times when the heaters are not in use.
I am sure the Salt Lake City School District Pupil Transportation Department will also make sure their drivers are aware of these additional precautions and will review the importance of reporting any identified interior leaks immediately, and quickly accessing if there is a need to move or evacuate their passengers in the event of a fluid leak.
Even though in a larger perspective of the nearly 500,000 school buses in operation in the United States, there appears to be a low incident rate of rupturing heater hoses with a potential of scalding passengers, any such case is a tragedy that needs to be evaluated to determine how to prevent it from happening in the future. Please express our concern to the students involved, and their families, and please express that on a state level we will do the following:
- We are in the process of making all other school districts and school busing entities in Utah aware of the incident and the extra precautions taken by Salt Lake City School District to prevent this type of incident in the future.
- In preparation for our next review of Standards for Utah School Buses and Operations (that will start in the near future), we will ask the Bus Body and Chassis Writing Committee to address this issue and identify how our standards may address prevention in the future.
- As our Bus Body and Chassis Writing Committee completes their work, we will forward a recommendation for consideration by the National Congress on School Transportation (NCST), set to meet in May of 2015. This will first go to the NCST Bus Body and Chassis Writing Committee for their review.
As difficult as this process has been for all involved, we appreciate knowing that Salt Lake City School District has processed through it, and has put progressive things in place in an effort to prevent this type of incident in the future.
Murrell Martin – Pupil Transportation Specialist
Utah State Office of Education
250 East 500 South
P.O. Box 144200
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-4200