Padlock on emergency exit of private buses pose safety problems for students

HOUSTON – Private school buses used to shuttle thousands of Houston area children to and from school, can have a serious, life-threatening safety problems, Channel 2 Investigates found.

Private school bus companies typically shuttle kids to and from school when school districts will not. The most common reason a school district refuses to bus a child is because he or she lives within 2 miles of school.

But having a 5-, 6-, or 7-year-old walking several miles to and from school is a non-starter for many parents, so private school bus companies fill the gap.

The industry, however, is fairly loosely regulated, Channel 2 Investigates found.

This week, at an HISD elementary school, a private school bus carrying approximately two dozen elementary students left the school with a locked emergency exit, a violation of federal law.

"I need to open it," Enriqueta Rodriguez, owner of Rodriguez Bus Services, said when asked about the locked emergency exit on her bus.

Private school bus owners sometimes do not have a secure facility in which to park the bus, so they will add latch locks to all of the exits, which sometimes are not unlocked during operation.

Rodriguez unlocked the exit.

A Channel 2 viewer, Kristen Copeland, spotted a different bus with the same problem and sent us a photo.

Federal Law requires all passenger buses and school buses have unlocked and accessible emergency exits when in use.

"If there's an accident and the front exit of the bus is damaged, with a padlock on the back those children have no way out and they're now trapped," Kristen Copeland said.

The Texas Department of Public Safety is the principal state agency that regulates school buses.

If you see a school bus, public or private, you think poses a danger to students.

You can report the suspected problem here.