We mourn for the students, families, and colleagues in Chattanooga, TN.
Children going to school is such an ingrained element of our culture, and we expect that they will be able to get to and from school without incident. Yesterday, we saw the tragic images of the aftermath of a school bus accident in Tennessee which needlessly took the lives of five young school children.
At this time, not much is known about the incident except that the bus was traveling at a speed much higher than what is posted for a residential area. We do not know if the bus in Tennessee had restraint systems in place for its passengers, nor if the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. We join everyone in praying for the families that have been affected by this horrible situation.
Here in the School District of Janesville (SDJ), we take the health and safety of all students, staff, and visitors to our schools seriously. On any given day in Janesville, our partner, Van Galder Bus Company, will transport roughly 700 students out of the total 10,000+ in our schools (less than 10%), not including transportation for student field trips and athletic events. Our school board has long supported many safety measures, including the phasing in of passenger restraint systems in the bus fleet for our students.
For our students who are transported daily by bus to and from school, there are several safety measure in place. As our contracted transportation provider, Van Galder does screen its drivers, including drug testing and random screenings. They also have monitoring systems in place that can identify if a bus has travelled at an excessive rate of speed, or if a bus had a sudden acceleration or deceleration.
Additionally, when Van Galder purchases new buses to replace and upgrade their fleet, they do so with restraint systems (seat belts) for the passengers. This adds around $15,000 (on average) to the cost of the bus, which the SDJ has covered. Among the buses used to transport our students daily, there are 10 traditional buses, and 19 buses used for students with special needs. Of the 10 traditional buses, 5 have been upgraded to have passenger restraint systems. All 19 buses used for students with special needs have passenger restraint systems in place.
We don’t know if seat belts on the bus in Tennessee would have made a difference or not. While we are saddened by this event, we can be comforted somewhat by the precautions we have taken to keep our students safe.