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School bus challenge
Elizabeth Byrd helps make sure all Bulloch Co. public buses are safe
Unsung hero Byrd
Elizabeth Byrd works in the Bulloch County School System as a supervisor for bus drivers. A veteran of 20 years driving a bus, Byrd is the safety coordinator for the bus system. - photo by ROGER ALLEN/special
    Bulloch County public school bus drivers face many challenges, including the fact that there are more dirt roads in Bulloch than anywhere else in the state. Elizabeth Byrd, a veteran of 20 years of driving buses in Bulloch, is the person entrusted by the Bulloch County Public School System Transportation Department to make sure that each of Bulloch's 111 drivers becomes master of their own route.
    Members of the Bessanger Tabernacle Baptist Church in Register, the Byrd and her husband Donald say an abiding faith in God has helped them cope with a recent personal tragedy. Elizabeth comes from a large family — her parents Dorothy and Harry had five boys and three girls, of which she is the oldest.
    Byrd wears several hats for Bulloch County: first, she is the lead driver for the Special Needs Transportation crew. And, second, as the safety coordinator for the Bulloch system, replacing Carole Ellis who retired.
    Byrd started out with Bulloch County in 1989, working for three years as a monitor on a “Special Needs” bus, and then as a “Special Needs” bus driver for the next 17, until assuming her new positions. She has a personal interest in driving the specialty bus. Byrd has twins and one was a special needs child.
    As the safety coordinator, Byrd is in charge of overseeing the training that all of the drivers receive. New river candidates are not simply placed behind the wheel of a bus: they must pass a series of very rigorous tests, both of the paper and hands-on variety. All drivers must first pass the same test that all truck drivers take, the Commercial Drivers License, except they must earn a special “School” endorsement.
    Once receiving a Georgia license, drivers can enroll in the bus drivers training class, which meets for 12 hours of classroom study. Once this requirement has been fulfilled, they then proceed to the Drivers Skill Range, where they undergo six hours of hands-on examinations driving a bus. Once they successfully complete the range qualifications, prospective bus driver candidates undergo their “CDL Pre-Trip,” at which time they must prove that they know their buses both inside and out.
    After proving their mastery of bus etiquette and safety, the drivers-to-be are still not finished: they then head to Effingham County, where they take a special Georgia Department of Transportation bus drivers test. If they successfully pass this exam, they then are thoroughly vetted: all candidates undergo an in-depth background check; submit to a drug-screening test; and take a state-certified physical examination.
    At this point, Bulloch Transportation Director Paul Webb must agree to their being hired as a “Service Contract Driver” until the Bulloch County Board of Education formally agrees to hire them as an official bus driver.
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