Knox County Schools ramps up security ahead of Wednesday
It's that time of year again in Knox County. Students will be back to school again, which means R & R for some parents.
"It means a little more peace and quiet at the house," Nicholas Minard, a father of two, said.
His little ones will also be boarding Knox County school buses for the first time. Dozens of private contractors run 344 buses across the county.
"It's a major concern especially when you hear about tragedies," he said. "When you're driving, anything can happen."
So how are drivers keeping your kids safe? "It'll be a little hectic," Russ Oaks, the chief operating officer for Knox County Schools, said. But transparency is their goal through the entire process, the administrator added.
Now, under Tennessee state law, school buses are required to have 'how am I driving?' stickers with a hotline to dial with concerns.
Oaks said they've received a number of calls since the law went into effect Jan. 1, 2018. Speeding tops a list of complaints, but he claims most have been unfounded with security cameras and GPS trackers to keep drivers in check on all buses.
"Because the information you get from a camera is irrefutable," Oaks said.
Years ago, officials only checked driving records when they were first hired. They've since done so every year in case something new pops up.
Some of these changes are a response to a deadly bus crash in 2014, killing two children and a teacher's aid on Asheville Highway.
Knox County said they've overcome many speed bumps since the tragedy. "We want it to look as smooth and be as smooth of a process getting our kids to school and back home."
KCS held a press conference on Tuesday outline some of its safety initiatives. Superintendent Bob Thomas did touch on bus safety, saying drivers must submit to rigorous assessments every 18 months. He also added that an additional $1 million had been set aside to help hire school bus drivers.
KCS Chief of Security Gus Paidousis said there are camera systems and fencing at every school to keep children safe, and there will be uniformed, armed officers at every school.
Chief Deputy Bernie Lyons with the Knox County Sheriff's Office and Deputy Chief Kenny Miller with the Knoxville Police Department were on hand as well to let drivers know officers and deputies will be out in school zones to enforce new rules regarding cell phones.
Anyone over age of 18 must use hands-free devices, and people under the age of 18 are not allowed to use any type of cell phones in school zones.
Lyons said KCSO deputies will be looking for cell phone use and speeders in school zones.
"We'll take no exceptions to any of these. If you are stopped, you will be cited," Lyons said. "So slow down on the first day."
Miller said KPD plans to maintain a presence throughout the school year.