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Bus student safety at Metea Valley

Dhiya Ashlyn D.S.
2023 had twice as many bus accidents compared to 2022.

Metea Valley High School and First Student work collaboratively to ensure that students who take buses to and from school are safe.

Throughout the school year, there have been seven reported bus accidents, out of which six buses were carrying District 204 students and there have been no reported injuries because of a school bus accident. As the 4th largest school district in Illinois, D204 encompasses 42 schools, which when combined have a consensus of 25,000+ students. In D204, almost 17,000 students are transported on 1,100+ routes daily. At the time of the interview with First Student and D204 District Administration, this would have equated to 45,100 total routes and 697,000 students transported.

There were about double the number of accidents last year as compared to this year. 

“Last year, we had, I believe, 12 accidents, but only four of them last year were at fault,” said Senior Safety Manager with First Student Jennifer Dillion.

Director of Support Operations for Indian Prairie School District, Ronald Johnson clarifies that bus accidents deemed at fault of the bus driver usually do not involve another motorist. In the previous and current school years, there has not been a case where an accident occurred due to a bus driver breaking traffic rules or colliding with another vehicle. 

“I think one of the seven this year was an accident at Waubonsie hitting the light pole. Because the carpool line was just too close, so when they made the turn the side of the bus just scraped the pole. So when we talk about at fault it’s not like you and me are driving and I run a red light and hit you,” Johnson said. 

Accidents involving school buses generally pose a lower risk to the passengers on the bus compared to the passengers on a smaller vehicle. This is due to the sheer weight and size of a vehicle such as a school bus. 

“Most of the drivers and the passengers don’t even know if something happened,” Dillon said.“It feels like hitting a pothole in your parents’ vehicle… When you’re in an accident and next thing you know people will be standing going ‘Oh look at the car’ because the car’s whole front end is gone. But with the size and weight of our vehicles, and the way they’re constructed, you don’t even realize you’ve been in an accident.” said Dillion

Compartmentalization is another feature that buses have to ensure the safety of passengers. In a school bus, the seats are arranged close to one another with high seat backs and there are no seat belts. This guarantees that in the case of an accident, students are compartmentalized and protected. If school buses were not compartmentalized, students would not be secure in their seats in the event of an accident.

Compartmentalization is constantly being taken into consideration by the bus driver. When a bus driver tells a student to move their feet from the aisle or instructs students to avoid getting out of their seats when the bus is in motion, they are doing so to keep students safe. 

“If [students are] not compartmentalized – feet in the seat compartment, sitting up straight, not leaning across or moving while the bus is in motion, that’s where students get injured,” Johnson said.

Despite these safety measures, in the event of an accident, all staff – from the D204 district and First Student – are trained to take action immediately.

If a school bus that did not carry students was involved in a road accident, D204 does not get involved. In this case, coordination happens between First Student, the driver, and the local medical and police authorities. 

However, if the accident occurred when students were on board,  a systematic process in which First Student, D204 staff, and local authorities coordinate takes place. In this process, the bus driver contacts dispatch, who then is in charge of calling down medical professionals and police officers. Meanwhile, the Senior Safety Manager or their counterpart will be contacted and requested on the scene. The dispatcher also contacts the school administrator. From there, the Director of Support Operations for the Indian Prairie School District is contacted. 

“I’ll coordinate an emergency response team, incident command team at the district level to make sure that everybody’s supported on scene,” Johnson said. 

In the meantime, a district administrator will be on scene, assisting the students, bus driver, and police officers. The school office staff are in charge of contacting parents, however, they do not do so until the police have given the all-clear to avoid any disturbances the parent might cause on scene.  

Parents are informed through a communication messaging system – Connect 204. The school will contact the parents of the students involved in the accident through a phone call, email, and text message, however, a parent can choose to opt out of these methods of communication.

Throughout this entire process, the bus driver plays a key role in ensuring the safety of students. The first thing a bus driver is instructed to do in the case of an accident is to ensure that all students are safe and not injured. Immediately following that, they must call dispatch. The bus driver must answer questions the dispatcher asks while maintaining their composure and keeping students calm. The bus driver must follow the Safety Manager’s or police’s directions from that point forward. 

“The focus of everything is on the student’s safety more than anything else, which is really how it should be.” an anonymous bus driver said.

In the event of a bus accident, the students are expected to first and foremost follow the bus driver’s instructions. They must stay seated and may get off the bus and onto the sidewalk if the bus driver says it is safe to do so. The most important thing that students should do in the event of an accident is to tell an adult if they are injured. 

“And if they’re injured, they need to say something like ‘hey, my knee hurts, my neck hurts, my head [hurts], I’m bleeding’ They need to immediately tell an adult,” said Johnson.

Road safety in the event of snow is a common concern amongst parents of D204, but drivers have been trained to ensure that the transportation is as safe as possible.  

We always preach [to the bus drivers to] slow down, increase your distance. We were usually the brighter, bigger vehicle on the road, we had the flashing light on the top. A lot of those conversations as we’re determining in a snowstorm, whether we’re going to have school or not, are in conjunction with DuPage County, Will County, Naperville, Aurora on their ability to clear the roadways,”  Johnson said.

The school prioritizes student safety in the event of a bus accident and is bound by law to stage a bus evacuation at least once every year. 

By law, every student has to go through a bus evacuation drill. Each school building coordinates that with First Student, First Student sends drivers over. Johnson said.

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About the Contributor
Dhiya is a sophomore and a reporter for The Stampede. She enjoys creative writing, music, art, and spending time with friends. She is also a classical dancer and spends an unnecessary amount of time daydreaming about and watching Tamil cinema.

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