Hiring and Training Bus Drivers and Monitors

Bus driver wearing an orange safety vest standing beside his school bus.Bus drivers and bus monitors are crucial for the success of Head Start programs because they help children get to the program and home again, and they support learning opportunities while the children are being transported. Transportation staff may escort children to their classroom and convey messages from parents to teachers and report any incidents on the bus. Bus drivers should collaborate with the bus monitor and classroom teachers to teach children safe riding practices and safety procedures on and off the bus. Both drivers and monitors should serve as role models for children riding the bus and as representatives of the Head Start program when in contact with parents or guardians.

Each school bus that transports Head Start children is required to always have at least one bus monitor on board when children are present. They must accompany every child when boarding or exiting the bus. Bus monitors must wear appropriate safety restraints while the vehicle is in motion, unless assisting children.

Here, we cover requirements and suggestions for hiring and training bus drivers and bus monitors. Beyond engaging in transportation-specific training, drivers and monitors can further their professional development along with regular Head Start staff.

Hiring Bus Drivers

The bus driver is responsible for safely operating a bus or other vehicle to transport children between their homes and Head Start centers. In this capacity, the bus driver is often the first and the last person that a parent and a child see each program day. This means the bus driver needs to be a responsible individual and a good ambassador for the Head Start program. Agencies must ensure that prospective candidates for a bus driver and bus monitor positions meet Head Start Program Performance Standards.

Minimum Requirements

A program transporting children (other than transportation services to children served under a home-based option) must ensure drivers, at a minimum:

  • Have a valid Commercial Driver's License (CDL) for vehicles in the same class as the vehicle the driver will operating (in states that issue CDLs)
  • Meet any physical, mental, and other requirements necessary to perform job-related functions with any reasonable accommodations

The applicant review process for drivers must include:

  • Disclosure by the applicant of all moving traffic violations, regardless of penalty
  • A check of the applicant's driving record through the appropriate state agency, including through the Commercial Driver's License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, if available
  • Checking that drivers qualify under the applicable driver training requirements in the state or tribal jurisdiction
  • A medical examination, performed by a licensed doctor of medicine or osteopathy, establishing that the individual possesses the physical ability to perform any job-related functions with any necessary accommodations
    • The medical examination takes place after a conditional employment offer to the applicant and before the applicant begins work as a driver
  • A criminal records background check, including fingerprint checks (45 CFR §1302.90(b))
  • A negative tuberculosis (TB) test result
  • Negative drug and alcohol test results

Recommended Qualifications

Although not required, it is recommended that drivers be 21 years old when hired and have:

  • An "S" and "P" endorsement for a CDL in states that issue CDLs
  • Awareness of federal, state, local, or tribal transportation requirements
  • Knowledge of the geographic locale and the languages spoken by the families served
  • Good hearing and at least 20/40 vision with or without glasses as per CDL state and federal requirements
  • Problem-solving skills and leadership whenever emergency situations arise
  • Prior experience with safely transporting children

Hiring Bus Monitors

The bus monitor is responsible for working with the bus driver to supervise children on their bus route. Additionally, as a good ambassador for the Head Start agency, the monitor greets parents and children during a bus route. In both cases, the bus monitor must be aware of and follow federal regulations and agency protocols. The bus monitor must also maintain a positive attitude and a focus on safety and providing a comfortable environment.

Bus monitors interact with children throughout their time on the bus. This close observation and communication ensures positive experiences for children. It also reinforces safe practices while riding the bus. Bus monitors collaborate with the driver to teach children the correct safety procedures for boarding and exiting a bus. They also teach children the danger zones around the vehicle. Bus monitors are highly encouraged to lead children in activities throughout a bus route. Activities may include singing, telling stories, or playing visual games.

By working with teachers, bus monitors can extend and reinforce classroom learning. Bus monitors handle discipline while the bus is in motion, and they are required to report any observation of child abuse or neglect.

Minimum Requirements

A program transporting children (other than transportation services to children served under a home-based option) must ensure bus monitors:

  • Meet any physical, mental, and other requirements necessary to perform job-related functions with any reasonable accommodations
  • Are able to physically assist children, which may include carrying children from a vehicle in case of an emergency (45 CFR §1302.90(b))
  • Pass a TB test
  • Pass a criminal records background check, including fingerprint checks (45 CFR §1302.90(b))

Recommended Qualifications

Although not required, it is recommended that bus monitors be:

  • Able to pass alcohol and drug screenings
  • Knowledgeable about Head Start transportation services and how to manage children on a bus
  • Familiar with the children's language and community
  • Skilled and able to work with children and parents
  • Able to complete written reports and speak English, as well as the primary language of the children
  • Experienced in working with young children

Training Requirements

Well-trained employees are the backbone of a good Head Start program. Training programs should reinforce the key skills and functions from the job description. They should also support and reflect performance goals, policies, and procedures.

The requirements below detail the training necessary for bus drivers and bus monitors in Head Start programs that provide transportation services.

Bus Drivers

Head Start bus drivers must receive a combination of classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction prior to transporting any children (45 CFR §1303.72) in addition to training in all state, federal, and local laws. Topics include:

  • How to safely run a fixed route
  • Administering first aid and emergency situations, including emergency evacuation
  • Routine maintenance
  • Safety checks
  • Recordkeeping
  • Transporting children with disabilities

Bus Monitors

Training requirements for bus monitors include (45 CFR §1303.72(e)):

  • Boarding and exiting procedures
  • Child restraint systems
  • Emergency response and evacuation
  • Use of special equipment
  • Instruction for required paperwork
  • Child pick-up and release procedures
  • How to do pre- and post-trip vehicle checks to ensure that there are no safety hazards and no child is left on the bus

Covering Your Bases

Transportation managers will want to have the following either in place or on hand to help support successful hiring and training:

  • Job descriptions
  • Job task analysis
  • Training program
  • Performance goals and evaluations
  • National and local policies and procedures
  • Conflict resolution process
  • Communication strategies
  • Clear expectations for performance

Contracting and Outsourcing

Instead of training and hiring, many programs contract other companies to be responsible for their planned transportation activities, depending on local conditions and community needs. Partnering with private school bus companies has been one successful contracting strategy. Program administrators who outsource transportation can focus on education and still maintain control over transportation through contract stipulations.

The National School Transportation Association offers a free guide to outsourced student transportation, including contract models and a contracting checklist.