While there are many ways to report a school bus crash, experienced student transporters said the most important aspects are to implement standards and protocols on proper crash reporting and documentation.
Freddie Yazzie, a transportation worker from Ganado School District in Arizona, presented his experiences and why he has found that having crash documentation is essential during the STN EXPO Reno in July.
Yazzie’s school bus was rear-ended from behind when he was transporting 64 students, he recounted. Since his route is in the Navajo Nation, it took law enforcement an hour and a half to arrive at the scene. Yazzie said he also wasn’t prepared for the accident report that followed.
The next year, a truck rear-ended Yazzie’s school bus. A spare tire on the truck wasn’t tied down properly and launched into the back of his school bus.
While Yazzie said no one was severely hurt in the incidents, he knew from that moment that he wanted to train other school bus drivers on what to do if they were ever in a similar situation.
“Getting in a school bus accident is scary,” Yazzie told attendees in July. “You don’t know what to do, you blank out. We are all different when it comes to accidents. We don’t think the same way in emergency situations. Even the toughest person you know, you don’t know how they will respond.”
While a school bus driver is hard-pressed to predict when an emergency situation will occur, he said transportation departments need to be prepared. Being prepared for something that may never happen, is better than being ill-prepared for something that does happen, Yazzie explained.
School Transportation News asked readers in a recent survey about what protocols are in place for crash reporting in their school districts. Maine School Administrative District 75 in Topsham, Maine, has a very clearly outlined protocol for responding to crashes.
Adam Mayo, director of transportation, outlined what to do if the incident occurs during school hours, and what to do if it happens after-hours or on a weekend:
Response During School Hours
- The school bus driver radios the transportation office about a bus incident while on the route. The transportation specialist or designated person will assume primary responsibility for communications. In the absence of the primary contacts, the transportation director will become the designated primary contact.
- The transportation office will immediately contact the police for assistance. Emergency medical personnel shall be requested in any traumatic incident involving the bus, whether or not there are any visible injuries.
- The transportation director will travel to the scene of the incident. If necessary, a bus mechanic will be dispatched by the transportation director, specialist or designated contact with a bus replacement and/or service truck.
- That same person will provide the initial updated information to the school, regarding whose students are involved in the incident. The information will be disseminated to the superintendent and business manager. A record of all information given shall be documented. The point of contact at the school shall be the principal, depending on the availability of that person.
- The individual schools are responsible for notifying parents and for continued communications with the parents/guardians of the students riding on the bus who are involved in the incident. The schools are also providing support to the students, parents/guardians and staff through the schools’ emergency action plan.
- The superintendent or business manager is responsible for providing information about the incident to the other schools. That includes immediately contacting other schools that do not have student involvement in the incident, but that may be directly affected by it.
Response After School Hours and on Weekends
- The transportation director shall serve as a primary contact to receive and coordinate information either from the transportation garage or from home. The transportation director will contact the superintendent or business manager and affected school principals or designated contact if the principal is not available. In the absence of the transportation director, someone else will have to serve as the primary contact.
- As soon as possible, the school bus driver must complete a school bus incident/accident report and any additional police/insurance reports with the transportation director.
- School bus drivers will hold two emergency bus evacuations drills during the school year.
Maintenance of Information
- The superintendent, business manager, and transportation director, shall maintain an updated list of home addresses and telephone numbers of the members of each schools’ emergency response teams. The principal will provide updated information.
- Each year, the district nurses shall provide the transportation director with a confidential notice of special student health needs for those who ride the school buses. The nurses should update the transportation director as needed. The transportation director should provide this importation confidentially to the appropriate school bus driver.
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Yazzie reminded districts to have a clear documentation process and easy-to-fill-out forms available to everyone who would be involved in the crash reporting process. In a crash, he noted, children are likely to be screaming and crying, so a bus driver has to be prepared for any situation.
He reminded drivers to be ready to submit to post-incident drug tests, which have to be taken within two hours of the crash. However, he stressed, school districts must also have a policy in place for whether a school bus driver calls dispatch or law enforcement after a collision.
Jay Thurber, facilities and transportation coordinator for College of Southern Idaho Head Start/Early Head Start located in Twin Falls, Idaho, said it’s his policy to first call 911.
School bus drivers must then contact law enforcement, or have a bus monitor make contact and seek medical attention for all children when needed. He said the children should be evacuated from the bus to a safe location that is at least 150 feet away.
At the scene, Thurber continued, all mandatory documentation should be completed. This includes filling out crash reports and obtaining driver insurance information. Once the school bus driver has time to contact the district, calls must then be made to notify the children’s parents.
Staff is then required to be escorted to a local medical facility for post-accident drug and alcohol screening by another center staff member. That screening is to be completed as soon as possible after the accident, Thurber noted.
While some districts or agencies require school bus drivers to call 911 or law enforcement first, others require the drivers call dispatch, which is then responsible for contacting the appropriate personnel.
Reghan Mahaffey, assistant director of transportation for Aspen School District in Colorado, indicated the latter is the case at her district. School bus drivers should first contact dispatch, which then contacts the police, so that the driver can respond to the situation at hand. The transportation supervisor is responsible for driving to the crash scene to take pictures.
Following the police investigation, students are either released to their parents or transported via a different school bus to their ultimate destination. The original bus driver is required to fill out an incident report, with any necessary follow-up determined by the transportation supervisor.
Districts should also complete a checklist and have a route sheet available to account for all of the students on-board, as well as, a chart to document the chain of events. Barren County Schools in Glasgow, Kentucky has a tier response to a crash when reported by the school bus drivers.
While there are many systems in place at each local school district for how to respond to a crash, the most important thing that Yazzie emphasized at STN EXPO Reno was having information documented on easy-to-use forms. Additionally, he said districts should have a checklist available for dispatch, to ensure that no required processes are forgotten and that all pertinent questions are answered.