DINWIDDIE COUNTY, VIRGINIA – Nearly two weeks ago, 22 Dinwiddie County Middle School and High School were injured after the school buses they were riding on collided when a pickup truck suddenly stopped in front of them along Boydton Plank Road (U.S. Route 1.)
Last week, Dinwiddie school division officials discussed safety procedures utilized in the February 18 incident to keep students safe and parents abreast of the developing situation.
“We want to be able to get the information out to parents but we want to be able give them information,” explained Superintendent William Clark in an interview.
The accident, which occurred just after 3 p.m. on a weekday along the busy thoroughfare created a significant traffic situation along U.S. Route 1 as Virginia State Police and emergency services managed the scene by closing lanes of the roadway in an alternating fashion to allow for some semblance of traffic flow as they worked to move the damaged buses.
“Traffic was backed up so much because of the accident and the fact that we only had one lane delayed us from getting there, along with some of our people from Transportation,” Clark said.
Even though school officials were mixed in with much of the stopped traffic along Boydton Plank Road following the accident, Clark noted that the accident was reported to school division’s transportation dispatch center immediately after it happened and emergency services and Dinwiddie County deputies were on the scene in minutes.
The superintendent went on to say that it was important for the school system to gather information on what happened at the accident scene before making a county-wide robocall alerting parents to the collision.
“We are not just going to make a call out right away when we don’t have what’s going on,” he explained.
Clark said school officials had to determine if they were going to be transporting students on alternate buses and figure out a plan of action of informing parents of different location for student pickup without having those parents come to the scene, due to the traffic congestion and lack of room and parking.
Uninjured students were taken to Eastside Community Enhancement Center for parental pickup.
“With this [accident] being out in the field, that is why Eastside was selected as the relocation site for parents,” Clark said. “We wanted to let parents know that we don’t want them coming to the scene and rather you come to Eastside.”
Even with the relocation site, parents still made their way to the accident scene, mainly due to students utilizing their cell phones to let them know what had happened, which Clark said added another dynamic to management of the accident.
“The main thing is we want to get the information to the parents of the students involved,” Clark explained, “In this instance, you would make a call to the entire division because the incident involved not just the students on the bus but also may cause elementary school routes to be delayed.”
For those students who were transported to area hospitals, Hopewelll’s John Randolph Medical Center and Petersburg’s Southside Regional Medical Center, Clark explained that emergency services took down the names of students and that information was relayed to school officials, who called those parents to inform them of what had occurred.
“In some instances, we were unable to reach the parents,” Clark admitted. “I was at John Randolph with a student and we had a troubling time reaching their parents, not because we didn’t have their phone number but because they were having problems with their phone.”
According to school system officials, bus drivers and students take part in bus evacuation drills during the Fall and Spring of the school year and, when an accident occurs, bus drivers have a set of procedures they must follow, including reporting it to dispatch, activating their warning lights, and evaluating the extent of injuries to students, among others.
“The bus driver is in charge of the bus until EMS arrives,” Clark said. “Once they arrive, then EMS takes control of the scene. The safety of the students is the key.”
Shortly after the February 18 accident, it was announced by Virginia State Police that the driver of the second school bus was charged with following too closely, which led to questions about what the school division’s policy is on traffic infractions by school bus drivers.
According to Clark, “any driver involved in an accident in which he or she is charged within traffic violation while operating a bus or county car will be recommended to be referred to the School Board to be suspended for a period of 90 days,” citing school division policy during the interview.
The driver of the school bus has not been identified and the matter was not discussed in specifics by Dinwiddie Schools officials due to it being a personnel matter.
State Police said the crash remains under investigation.
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