The Aftermath: Time for an Emergency Procedure policy

This past May, there was a horrific bus accident involving eighth grade students, staff and parents of Charles W. Henry Elementary school. All 30 passengers and driver were injured when a car collided with the charter bus and eventually overturned on I-95.

It is understood that this was indeed an accident. However, everything that is done in the aftermath has to be intentional.

It was immediately noticed that the district did not have a plan to proceed with this type of emergency. Though a crisis team was sent to the school by the district, it was clear that there were minimal questions that would be answered. Parents and community members were roughly handled by this team, leaving most people extremely frustrated. Once the immediate effects of the accident had cleared, parents were faced with continued inability to get necessary information from the school administration, district administration, vehicle insurers, etc.

“While the immediate response of getting passengers triaged was difficult, once the dust settled the next day there was no word on how the PSD was going to help parents move forward with post accident support.” Linda Gordy, grandparent of former 8th grade Henry student 

It is understandable that there is a legal need to maintain a level of control at the school and district level. However, everything was flipped for students and their parents who now had broken bones, head and spinal injuries, laceration, and emotional trauma. Information was needed to assure than children would be able to continue medical, surgical, and psychological follow ups. Many children were unable to return to school due to lack of accessibility. It took 3 weeks for children to regain access to their education at home. When parents tried to figure out what the procedures are for their questions, they realized that Philadelphia school district has no emergency procedure policy for field trips. They were left to call one department after another to try to find someone who could accurately answer their questions and address their concerns. Many found it extremely difficult to navigate the system at 440 and resorted to obtaining their own legal assistance.

After the May 15th accident, parents were stressed with the primary concern being the well-being of their children; helping them walk, helping them remember, helping them feel safe.  The district made it clear that they could not provide legal advice, but they were unclear on what they could provide.  Parents should not have had to ask for accident reports, insurance, & driver info,  The school’s answer to “how will my child receive instruction when they can’t access the building?” shouldn’t be – “We’ll figure it out.”” Stephanie Clark, parent of former 8th grade student

In addition, it was extremely difficult to gain answers to how any existing safety plan information (Policy 705) would be accurately and comprehensively communicated to parents and guardians. We are still unclear of how safety information would be exchanged with students who have little to no verbal ability.

“Ms. Burns stated that the district has shared ownership with principals for implementing the safety policy.  In response to a parent’s question as to how information will be given to non-verbal students or students in need of other learning supports, Dr. Kolsky stated that the school safety team would be involved and that the information would be documented at the school level and kept in a safety binder as well as being discussed at Back to School Night.  I agree that these should be the proper protocols but what if that doesn’t happen at the school level?  How would you, the SRC, know based on these upper level administration responses whether parents have truly been informed?” Jennifer Aiello, parent of Henry students

At this time, there is still no policy in place or actively developed to ensure that the many mistakes made during the aftermath of this accident are not repeated.

Since May, parents have been testifying before the SRC to highlight the need of such a policy.

Linda Gordy,  (Grandmother of former 8th grade Henry student) testimony May 2017 : I-95 Bus Accident Lessons Learned May

Stephanie Clark (Mother of former 8th grade Henry student) testimony May and July 2017: SRC Board Meeting – 20170706

Jenny Aiello (Parent, Henry students) testimony:  June 2017 SRC comments June 15 2017

Robin Roberts (Parent, former 6th grade Henry student) testimony: July 2017 Emergency Procedure Policy testimony july 6

We are working with parents and community members to help the district develop an emergency procedure policy for field trips.

It is important that this policy incorporates:

  • A current contact list of the departments, point person, email addresses, and telephone numbers.
  • District sponsored services – like enhanced counseling or school based therapy services for students involved: duration, scope, and follow-up.
  • Documentation needed for children to return to class and school. Including an explanation of why this information in required.
  •  Plan to getting children back to education.
  • Use of alternate bus companies when an injury causing accident occurs.
  • Parent Involvement in selecting preferred supplier esp. for charter companies.

It is imperative to develop an emergency procedure policy for field trips.

“The children, staff, and parents have suffered through a catastrophic accident. Regardless, everything that happened after that had to be deliberate and purposeful. Corrective measures are necessary. If not, what child are you willing to offer up next time.” Robin Roberts, parent of former 6th grade Henry Student.