The Fairfield School Board hired a school bus driver trainer after being updated on proposed changes for new drivers at its Nov. 11 meeting.

Scott Hoyt, a school district employee, was hired on an hourly basis to provide driving instruction for new bus drivers. The instruction hours will be on an as-needed basis and will be in addition to his regular hours in the maintenance department. Hoyt has received self-certifications and can teach up to the level of his training.

The Fairfield School District transportation supervisor and Hoyt outlined for the board the projected changes, their plans for being proactive and the guidelines they plan to use.

Loren Tacke said changes to how entry-level school bus driver training is handled are coming from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a part of the Department of Transportation.

The rule changes were slated to already be in effect, but several legal challenges delayed implementation. In November of 2017 the new bus drivers were approved with higher standards set to begin in 2020.

“Prospective drivers will now be prohibited from taking the CDL test until they have completed both a theoretical knowledge learning program, as well as behind-the-wheel training,” Tacke told the board.

This training must be provided by an organization registered with the new Training Provider Registry, which will be overseen by the FMCSA.

Beginning in 2020, districts will have to sponsor new drivers through a training program to help them get their CDL. However, there are a few wrinkles that will make this less of a burden, Tacke said. There is no mandatory curriculum and there is no mandatory minimum hour requirement, for either theoretical or behind-the-wheel training.

“However, training providers will be held responsible for those drivers they certify,” Tacke said.

In addition to the training requirements, there will be an expansion of drug screenings to include hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone and oxycodone, any of which can now disqualify a driver from receiving her or his license.

There will also be a drug clearinghouse established to keep track of drivers who fail or refuse to take the mandatory drug test.

Tacke emphasized that at this time, it is difficult to know exactly how much impact these changes will have on school districts, particularly since individual states will have some leeway in their own implementation and regulation of the program, as it applies to their own drivers’ licensing system. “Schools should be looking ahead. Districts may even want to start getting in touch with their state congress to join into the discussion about potential legislative changes,” he added.

Fairfield has developed a training curriculum that is approximately 30 hours long, Tacke informed the board.

The 30 hours are broken into the following three groups: 10 hours of classroom theory, 10 hours of range driving and 10 hours of road driving. In each 10-hour area, there are several subcategories.

The training will help bus drivers learn to manage distractions, manage students riding the bus and be aware of road conditions and possible hazards. The program will cover bus operations, theory and road time as means to put qualified and experienced drivers out on the road with our kids.

Also during the meeting, Shane Etzwiler, president/CEO of the Great Falls Chamber of Commerce, provided information to the board regarding proposed ground-based strategic deterrent (GBSD) missile system upgrades planned for the future. He highlighted the possible skills needed by students in school who might be working on the project and the impact it could have to Great Falls and the surrounding communities such as Fairfield.

During the meeting, the board also approved a multi-district agreement for $50,000 for technology.