Mohawk schools chief to push for more bus safety

  • STEELE

  • Buoniconti

  • Stock image of a school bus METRO CREATIVE GRAPHICS

Recorder Staff
Published: 11/11/2016 11:34:27 PM

ASHFIELD — Less than two weeks after a 9-year-old Sanderson Academy student was killed in a school bus accident, school Superintendent Michael Buoniconti says he hopes to lobby for state and federal school bus safety measures to prevent similar tragedies from ever happening again.

On Oct. 28, Summer Steele was getting off the school bus near her Plainfield home when the door closed on her and began moving, according to information from the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office on Oct. 29. The third-grader was dragged a short distance before being struck by the bus, according to the DA. She died of her injuries later that afternoon, at the Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield.

When contacted this week for an update, spokeswoman Mary Carey confirmed a report that the child had been wearing a backpack at the time of the accident, but said other circumstances “remain under investigation.” There is no information on whether any charges have been made against the F.M. Kuzmeskus bus company or the driver.

The bus company was contacted for comment on Thursday, but did not return calls by press time Friday.

Schoolchildren on and near the bus saw the accident, according to Buoniconti, and counselors from all the Mohawk schools were at Sanderson in the week following the accident.

“I would like to work with (state Senator-elect) Adam Hinds and (Congressman) Richard Neal to propose legislation that requires school buses to have some sort of safety mechanism in the door,” Buoniconti told the Mohawk Trail Regional School District Committee this week. He said he would like to name the bill ‘Summer’s Law,’ pending approval of her family.

Buoniconti notified other school superintendents and suggested they make sure their drivers watch for students to step far clear of the buses before closing the door and driving off. “There was an overwhelming response,” Buoniconti said. “They went to their bus companies to go over procedures.”

However, Buoniconti has not yet spoken to other superintendents about additional school bus safety legislation, he said.

Ashfield School Committee member Emily Robertson suggested the school committee review bus policies to see if they should be revised and made more restrictive. She said many comments made on Facebook and other social networks raised questions about school bus safety rules.

“Buzzers could be a good thing,” said school board member Joseph Kurland of Colrain. “Has there been a study of all safety conditions on school buses that we can learn from?”

“Many said there should be a buzzer, or a sensor on the buses,” Robertson said. “Or that the bus shouldn’t leave until (the driver) gets a ‘thumbs-up’ from the kids.” She said some asked why there aren’t monitors on the school buses.

Heath School Committee member Ken Rocke said school bus monitors would be helpful because “drivers’ attention is pulled in many directions,” including times when there are behavior problems.

F.M. Kuzmeskus provides daily school bus service for Mohawk schools, including Sanderson, and is responsible for training their own drivers.

According to Jacqueline Reis, spokeswoman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the U.S. Department of Transportation sets the safety standards for school bus manufacturing, and the state Registry of Motor Vehicles handles licensing of school bus drivers.

According to the School Transportation Association of Massachusetts, a school bus driver must complete at least 16 hours of formal classroom and behind-the-wheel driving under the charge of a certified school bus driver training instructor. Before that, he or she must receive a Commercial Driver License (CDL) for the class of school bus as well as a school bus driver’s certificate from the Department of Public Utilities. Written examinations, driving tests, and other skills tests are required. The driver must also have a U.S. Department of Transportation physical examination, drug and alcohol screening, a criminal record check, and a driving record review.

To remain licensed, a school bus driver must undergo random drug and alcohol testing, a minimum of eight hours of in-service training annually, and an annual physical exam. Age requirements include a three-year driving record and semi-annual physicals after the age of 70.

Mohawk trains its own drivers for buses that go out on field trips or sports events. According to Facilities Manager Robin Pease, the Registry of Motor Vehicles requires eight hours of training a year to renew a school bus driver’s license. Mohawk athletic and field trip drivers receive training on professional development training days.

“The last training was on Nov. 8, and we reviewed safety procedures on unloading and loading students, proper storage of athletic equipment on the school bus, accident procedures and what to do and how to handle emergency situations,” Pease said. “Most trainings are held in two-hour sections. Additional past training topics include: evacuation drills, student management, CPR, first aid, Epi-pen, anti-bullying, communication issues, adverse weather conditions-driving in all kind of weather, RMV updates, and fire extinguisher safety.”

The cause of the accident remains under investigation by Plainfield police, Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, the State Police Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Section, State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement and State Police Crime Scene Services.

According to the National Safety Council, 25 million students a day begin and end their school days on a school bus.


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