Updated policies aim to protect students

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Eastern Hancock school officials have adopted new safety policies following two recent incidents on district buses that put students at risk.

Eastern Hancock Schools’ safety committee, which comprises administrators, teachers, parents and school resource officers, as well as the district’s school safety specialist, recently introduced safety policy updates in light of two incidents on school buses in as many months.

This week, an Eastern Hancock bus driver was fired amid allegations he pushed a child off the bus; last month, a student was left on a bus alone for 30 minutes after the driver forgot to drop the student off at home.

State law requires every Indiana school corporation to establish a safe school committee to address issues like unsafe conditions, crime prevention, school violence, bullying and more. In recent weeks, Eastern Hancock’s committee has been evaluating school policies in an effort to make a safer environment for children who depend on buses to shuttle them to and from school, officials said. This includes adopting a new checklist for steps to follow in the case of a bus-related safety incident, from getting medical care for anyone hurt to notifying law enforcement if needed.

Some of the first steps administrators suggested were those aimed at ensuring no child is left behind on a bus after a route ends.

Going forward, all bus drivers must walk to back of the bus after students are dropped off to initial an inspection sheet indicating they’ve walked the length of the vehicle to check for any students left behind, said Lisa Truitt, Eastern Hancock High School assistant principal and the district’s school safety specialist, in an email to the Daily Reporter.

Indiana law already requires a bus driver to “visually inspect each seat within the interior of the school bus … at the end of a trip … to determine that no student or passenger has remained on the school bus,” but Eastern Hancock officials said they hope adding an extra step ensures no students are still on the bus at the end of the route.

The district also took the opportunity to update bus policies for transporting students during severe weather.

They established procedures for bus drivers to follow in the event of a tornado warning and a checklist for school administrators to follow when handling safety incidents involving buses.

The last time a tornado warning was issued during school hours, students stayed at the school in the designated shelter areas, Truitt said. At that time, officials noted there was no written plan to guide drivers if a warning were issued while they had students on board, so one was added to the master safety plan and shared with drivers, she said.

The change in policy allows bus drivers to stop and take students to a safe area if there is a tornado warning while they have students on the bus, superintendent Vicki McGuire said.

“If you’re in that kind of a situation, you have to look at what’s safe for (students),” McGuire said. “The drivers know people along their routes, so they have options.”

The checklist for administrators when dealing with bus safety incidents established by the safety committee includes the following items: seek medical attention for all persons involved; notify the superintendent; notify law enforcement if applicable; notify the school attorney; notify the transportation director and have them escort the bus driver to receive a drug screen if applicable; and the superintendent shall notify the Indiana Department of Education within five days of the incident.

Keeping kids safe

Eastern Hancock officials have adopted a checklist for administrators to follow in the event of a school bus-related incident. The procedures call for officials to:

  • Seek medical attention for all persons involved
  • Notify the superintendent
  • Notify law enforcement if applicable
  • Notify the school attorney
  • Notify the transportation director
  • Escort the bus driver to receive a drug screen if applicable
  • Notify the Indiana Department of Education within five days of the incident
Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.