December 13, 2011 in City

Bus crash raises policy questions

Mother says district should notify parents of all accidents
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Stacy Benoscek works with her son Mavrick on exercises to rehabilitate injuries from a school bus accident that occurred in September. Benoscek is concerned that the school district did not notify her that Mavrick’s bus had been in an accident.
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When 11-year-old Mavrick Benoscek came home after school complaining of a headache in September, he told his mother he probably got it from the bus crash.

That was news to Stacy Benoscek: No one from the East Valley School District or Trent Elementary School had notified her about any accident involving her son’s school bus. Because Mavrick is developmentally delayed, Benoscek started making calls to check his story and ensure he wasn’t being “dramatic.”

Five days later, Benoscek finally confirmed a car had backed into her son’s bus. She took Mavrick to a doctor, who said the boy had a concussion, whiplash and pinched nerves in his spine.

The school district, Benoscek said, tells parents it “is responsible for your child from the minute they get on the bus until the minute they get off the bus at the end of the day,” but doesn’t routinely tell parents about traffic accidents involving school buses.

“This is so negligent,” she said. “There’s a big gap in there.”

East Valley School District only notifies parents with a letter when a bus is involved in a severe crash, district officials said. According to records obtained by The Spokesman-Review, the school district’s buses have been involved in 11 accidents since 2008, including some that damaged buses to the point that students were transferred to another bus. A letter was sent home only once during that time – when a bus lost control on ice and slid into a tree.

“You can’t write a policy for every circumstance,” said Brian Wallace, East Valley School District’s financial services director. But Wallace said the district’s policy might need to be re-evaluated. “We don’t want to get into a position where we are creating the opportunity for anxiety or false reporting, but maybe we err super on the side of caution.”

While Benoscek’s ire is directed at East Valley, that district’s policy concerning school bus accidents is similar to those at Central Valley School District and Spokane Public Schools.

Those policies are:

• For minor crashes, the bus driver is required to report the accident to district officials or the transportation office and notify police.

• If the crash involves another vehicle or an object such as a tree or a power pole, bus drivers or transportation officials in East Valley School District let the affected schools know that students may be delayed, but not necessarily why. The bus driver or transportation supervisor, who is not typically medically trained, also asks the children if they are hurt. If the students answer that they are not hurt, and there’s no blood, medical services – and parents – are usually not notified. In Central Valley and Spokane Public Schools, schools are notified of accidents and school officials decide if they need to notify parents.

Often, what’s done is determined on a case-by-case basis, according to all three districts.

Benoscek would like to see the policy change. “Let the school know so the school nurse can check the kids who were in the accident,” she said. “Let the parents know so they can take them to a doctor.”

East Valley officials say changing the policy is worth considering.

“We are open to reviewing policy,” said Superintendent John Glenewinkel. “It’s not our intent to be opaque to parents. It’s certainly something we will look at. Maybe changing the policy isn’t a letter. It’s a phone call where a box is checked if you talk to the parent, not just leave a message.”


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