Just when you thought it was safe to demand seat belts on school buses ...
David Duke came to our newspaper building Tuesday.
No, not that David Duke.
This David Duke is the CEO of Illinois-based National Express LLC, which is part of the London-based National Express Group, which is the parent company of Durham School Services, which operates the buses for public schools in Charleston County and Dorchester District 2.
Duke showed up Tuesday to make Durham’s “enough is enough” case against what he called “fabrications” by the Teamsters in their accusations of rampant safety problems on schools buses here.
Quite a coincidence.
Back to how safe — or unsafe — our school buses are:
Duke told us those unsafe allegations are “driven by a very small group of employees” — and that during negotiations of a collective bargaining agreement with the union “at no point did safety come up.”
And though some Durham drivers did go to a town-hall-style meeting at the NAACP’s Charleston branch Thursday night to warn of unsafe school buses, Duke had insisted to us two days earlier:
“We are safe. We believe in our people. We believe in what we do.”
He also offered logical insight on the inherent flaw of South Carolina’s “unique” status as the only state that owns an overwhelming portion (around 70 percent here and much higher overall) of the public school buses operating within its borders.
That strange arrangement, as Duke pointed out, helps explain why more than 60 percent of those state buses are more than 15 years old while the Durham buses here average about 7 years in age.
Duke explained that because local districts must answer more directly to parents, they are “much more likely to replace the buses” in a timely manner than state lawmakers with a far wider array of priorities.
So while we’re on the subject of school bus safety, why do 44 states, including ours, still not have laws requiring them to have seat belts?
Duke offered four reasons:
1) “How do we make sure all the students are wearing them?”
2) “The kids start using them as weapons.”
4) “Reduced capacity.”
Sure, school bus drivers need to keep their eyes on the road, not on who’s buckling up, hitting others with seat belts and vandalizing public property.
Gee, kids these days ...
Yet before we older folks self-righteously condemn utilizing seat belts as “weapons,” consider our own long-ago innovations on multiple fronts of youthful hostilities.
Consider, too, the lessons such creativity teach about physics, human relations and other enlightening subjects.
After all, our ancient ancestors evolved through self-preservation innovation by inventing increasingly effective implements of mayhem.
That survival-of-the-strongest process persists today as assorted antagonists scramble in the apparently relentless quest to upgrade their arsenals.
And lest we forget our own tools and methods of rudimentary self-defense (and offense) on not just school buses but on school grounds, remember what can be wrought by the skilled deployment of:
Rubber bands: The farther you pull them back, the sharper their impact.
Paper clips: When launched by a rubber band can inflict a painful metallic projectile sting.
Spitballs: Wadded-up, wetted-down paper, not saliva-laden baseballs. When blown through an empty pen casing delivers a firsthand primer on basic ballistics.
Food: Let the chips fall where they may.
Rocks: The harder they’re thrown, the harder they hit.
Nearly half a century ago, some mischief-makers at what was then St. Andrews Junior High discovered porous, grayish “rocks” that packed devastating stealth-bomb potential.
Odorless while intact, they emitted a foul, sewer-like stench when broken apart. Aptly dubbed “stink rocks,” they could quickly force the clearing of a classroom, much to the glee of the nefarious perpetrators who unleashed their powerful putridity.
No, we never threw those precious rocks at each other.
A few years later as high school students, however, we learned the perils of tipping-point force by overloading one side of a school bus that then fell onto its side in a ditch across the street from that junior high.
Fading memory through the fog of time suggests that the injuries were minor — and mostly suffered by the innocent as collateral damage.
Still, that incident cost the bus driver (our willing-accomplice pal who had let us tag along for the long afternoon ride) his job.
Then again, he was a high school student, too.
Back then, students drove the school buses around here.
And no, they didn’t have a union.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.