Frisch school-bus accident brings focus on safety

Frisch school-bus accident brings focus on safety

This bus brought students from Rockland County, N.Y., to The Frisch School in Paramus on Wednesday. Lloyd de Vries

Tuesday’s school bus accident involving high school students heading from Rockland County to Jewish schools in Paramus has raised questions about school bus safety.

The bus went onto the center median just south of exit 171 on the Garden State Parkway in Woodcliff Lake Tuesday morning, hitting a guard rail and trees. The 13 students on the bus and the driver were taken to The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood and Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, where they were treated for minor injuries ranging from a concussion to a broken nose.

The issue of school bus safety is complicated further because the 12 Frisch School students and one Bat Torah student were coming from one state into another.

In New Jersey, local public school districts are required to provide bus transportation to students attending nonprofit private schools, so long as they live between two and 20 miles from the school, and the district provides busing for its own students.

In New York, the range for K-8 students is two to 15 miles and three to 15 for high school students. The Frisch School is about 12 miles from the East Ramapo Central School District, which was providing the transportation for the students involved in Tuesday’s accident, and about 15 miles from the central pick-up spot.

Each school day, three buses bring students from that Rockland County area to Frisch.

“To the best of my knowledge, it’s the first [bus] accident” involving Frisch students, Rabbi John Krug, dean of student life and welfare, told The Jewish Standard.

New York State requires that students going to private schools be picked up not at their homes, but from a central point, which in this case was the Grandview School in Wesley Hills (Monsey), N.Y.

Parents may pay for bus transportation if the distance to the private school is less or more than these parameters.

There is a limit on how much a New Jersey school district may spend on transporting a student; currently, it’s $884 per year. If the cost of transportation to a nonpublic school exceeds that, the district pays that amount to the parents or guardians, who then make up the difference.

The bus in Tuesday’s accident was operated by Chestnut Ridge Transportation in Spring Valley, N.Y., owned by The Trans Group.

The East Ramapo school district referred questions to the New York State website. Chestnut Ridge Transportation did not return several calls.

New Jersey and New York school buses are inspected at least twice a year, according to government websites.

Only six states require school buses to have seat belts, but New York and New Jersey are two of them. New Jersey is the only state, however, that requires their use by student passengers.

About 40 percent of the students at the Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford are brought there by bus, although none comes from Rockland County. Some of the transportation is funded by public school districts.

“We make sure that when our students get on the buses that they’re seated properly,” Larry Mash, middle school principal at Solomon Schechter in New Milford, told the Standard. “We have less control over the ride in the morning.”

Whether the students remained buckled up is the responsibility of the bus driver, said Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck administrator Rachel Feldman.

Some of the bus transportation for students at Ma’ayanot is arranged by the school, some by the students’ parents, and none by public school districts, Feldman told the Standard, but in all cases, the bus companies must meet certain standards, and she has copies of their insurance certificates on file.

“The companies that we use, as far as we know, have good records,” said Schechter’s Mash.

The Schechter school probably will review school bus safety after the Frisch accident, as it does routinely. Students periodically participate in school bus safety drills, such as how to exit from the rear of a bus, Mash added.

“Thank God, it’s a much happier ending than it could have been,” Elaine Weitzman, Frisch executive director, told the Standard.

And Krug related that happy ending on the sixth day of Chanukah to the holiday.

“We could change nes gadol haya sham, ‘a great miracle happened there,’ to nes gadol haya po, ‘a great miracle happened here,'” he said.

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