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Parents ask for better communication following incidents at R-P

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Oct 19th, 2012
Posted in Rushford Education

Just one week after a local publication printed an article highlighting Ready Bus drivers’ irritations with motorists ignoring the stop arms and flashing lights of stopped buses, a bus serving the district was involved in an accident north of Hart township on Highway 43. At approximately 3:45pm, October 12, Brian Moore, 53, of Winona, rear-ended the bus at more than 50 mph. At the time, the bus carried 25 students, aged 7-13, including five who sustained minor injuries. Moore was uninjured.

According to R-P Superintendent Chuck Ehler, Ready Bus Company driver Tim Wilkemeyer saw the incoming impact and quickly instructed the child preparing to exit the bus to sit immediately. After impact, Wilkemeyer was able to pull the bus to a grassy area well off the highway and conduct a check of the students. Rushford Ambulance Service, fire and police departments, along with state highway patrol all responded to the scene.

Parents Tony and Jessica Heiden, who had two children, aged 5 and 7, on the bus were thankful, but concerned over what they believe was a lack of communication from the district. “I’m not sure you were aware of what we were going through. It was very nerve wracking,” stressed Jessica Heiden, whose children arrived home more than an hour after the usual time.

“Those are valid concerns. I understand your frustrations,” responded Ehler. “I sure am empathetic to what was going on in your mind.” According to Ehler, the district did what it could to notify parents, but was limited on information. Having chosen not to go directly to the scene and create further confusion, a command center was setup at the school and staff had multiple phones going trying to both gather and give the needed information.

A second Ready bus was sent to the scene and began taking the remaining students home at 4:45pm, the highway patrol reported the details to Ehler at 6:30pm, and the last of the five students transported for medical care was released by Winona Health at approximately 8pm.

Tom Ready, owner/operator of Ready Bus Company, was also sympathetic to the Heidens’s concerns. “We train drivers on situations like this. Our main concern is worrying about a shock situation and getting a handle on all the people, making sure no one wanders off,” he insisted. “I know you’re concerned. We worry about the people on our buses. We will work hard to make that better for you.”

A second, unrelated incident at the district on October 4, also weighed heavily with the Heidens. According to Ehler, who could not give details because of data privacy, a situation occurred that required he and principal Shane McBroom to make a decision to lock all outside doors to the high school/elementary facility. “A situation developed where we wanted to keep anyone from entering the building to prevent it from escalating further. Please trust that educators have your children’s best interests at hand.”

We want to be more prudent on how and where we’re letting people into our building. Some changes will be coming and we will communicate that to parents.”

The Heidens believed more should have been communicated about the event. “We need more details in the scenario, the nature of the issue. We need to know why.” The family is recommending that the district set up a crisis communication plan to keep families better informed. “This has been two events in two weeks,” added Jessica Heiden.

Ehler indicated the district is already looking into how it can improve communications for future needs and situation protocol.

“There are always things you can learn and then make better,” noted Board Chair Angela Colbenson.

The R-P school board, staff, and the Heiden family were all thankful for the actions of driver Tim Wilkemeyer, Rushford Ambulance, Fire, and Police Departments, and the Minnesota Highway Patrol in regards to the bus accident.

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