ou’re a school district transportation director. You get a frantic call from your dispatcher, who says one of your buses has been involved in a rollover crash with

student injuries, some serious. What do you do? You’re a school district superintendent. You are in a meeting and your assistant informs you that one of your buses has been in crash with an undetermined number of seriously injured students transported to multiple medical facilities. What do you do? You’re a school bus driver transporting elementary

students and a total stranger makes friendly overtures to you at the same bus stop on numerous occasions for no apparent reason. What do you do? If a definitive course of action for everyone involved in each of these scenarios has not been predeter- mined, it’s already too late. The bad situation will only get worse. Because of well-documented cases of school shootings

and fatal bus crashes, crisis planning has been a fact of life for educators for more than two decades, relegating the phrase “something like that will never happen here” to a fool’s anthem. “People generally wait until something happens

before they start planning,” said George Horne, a Louisiana-based student transportation consultant. He added that he sees too many instances of school

bus-related emergencies, where children are struck at bus stops or involved in crashes, as major crises that must be addressed. “Today, traffic operations are worse than they were

30 years ago, by vehicle operators and bus drivers,” he continued. “Vehicles are running stop signs, and we can’t seem to find the right devices to stop this.” Horne, a former assistant school superintendent and transportation director, suggested pulling out all the stops and getting the news media, administrators, teachers and parents together at the beginning of each school year to discuss district operations and bus safety. “When a fatality happens, everybody wants to point fingers at people for causing it,” said Horne, who is also a certified school bus driver-trainer. “We’re all at fault. The adults should understand why we call it our most precious cargo. It’s our future we’re transporting.” It is common knowledge that school buses are statistically proven to be the safest form of getting stu-

dents to and from school, transporting approximately 25 million students nationwide over millions of miles each day. Advances in safety technologies only add to that reality. But even with the structural design and technolo-

gy, things can and sometimes do go wrong. Whether caused by equipment failure, inclement weather or human error, the impact is amplified to crisis propor- tions because it strikes one of our most vulnerable populations. Murphy’s Law is always in play. It is the response to the tragedies that befall school

campuses and school buses that help define a school district’s or bus contractor’s commitment to keeping students safe. That commitment usually can be found in the district’s emergency response procedure or crisis management plan. Beyond all the blame and finger-pointing, these plans hold the strategies that will mitigate the event and return the school community to normalcy in the shortest amount of time. The 2015 revised edition of The National School

Transportation Specifications and Procedures that was compiled by the 16th National Congress of School Transportation provides a comprehensive guide to planning an implementation of a crisis response plan and stresses the importance of including transportation in the crisis planning. Editor’s note—The 17th congress scheduled for May 17-20 was postponed last month. School Transportation News sent a survey in Feb- ruary to 482 school district superintendents inquiring whether they had crisis management plans, the elements of those plans and whether they included transportation in the planning or execution stages. The results were inconclusive at best. Given the nature of the superintendent’s job, many may not have seen the survey or didn’t have the time to participate. Only three school districts responded to the survey, and of those only the Burlington Community School District in Iowa agreed to be interviewed for this article. “Our emergency operation plan is relatively new,”

said Transportation Director Alan Mehaffy of the plan, which was approved last May. “But we understood that it was not an option, it was something that we needed to take [care] of.” Mehaffy said the plan was inspired by a tornado warning a couple of years ago that caught students on a bus route. He said district officials did the right thing by taking the students to the nearest school and notifying the parents where their children were. “But we realized then that we did not have anything set

36 School Transportation News • APRIL 2020

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