South Peace News
Charges have been laid in a school bus accident near Valleyview that was more serious than the Northern Gateway School Division’s only public post on the incident made it appear.
The bus driver, Dawn Knapp, will appear in Valleyview provincial court Nov. 19 on a single count of careless driving.
Northern Gateway’s official Facebook announcement posted at 9:44 a.m. Sept. 23 says, “Bus Notice: A contracted bus, Valleyview Route 77, was in an accident today at approximately 7:50 a.m., on Highway 665, near Range Road 212. The families of the three student passengers were contacted; the students and bus driver are being attended to at Valleyview Health Centre. Emergency Services responded quickly to the call. The investigation into this situation continues.”
Two of the students were actually sent to hospitals outside of Valleyview, one of them via STARS air ambulance.
Fatima Khawaja, STARS communications, confirmed via e-mail that one patient was transported from Valleyview to the University of Alberta hospital in Edmonton on Sept. 23.
The family of the other student who was treated for injuries at a hospital outside of Valleyview ultimately declined to comment for the story as they have already retained legal counsel.
Photos of the bus taken at the scene show the bus on its side.
South Peace News received a news tip that the school division’s social media person has been deleting any comments from family members or others on the division’s announcement post that asked questions about the seriousness of the accident.
That tip was confirmed by this reporter by asking in a comment on Sept. 29, “Why are you deleting any comments about how serious this accident was? Doesn’t the community have the right to know, and don’t injured students and their families deserve support?”
That comment was immediately deleted and followed by a private message request saying, “I am messengering you in regard to your comment on the NGPS Facebook page. We cannot share any personal information regarding students with other parents or the general public. Additionally, the accident is currently under investigation.”
The message then asks to call Rhett Czaban, director of transportation, directly.
Reached via phone, Czaban says he is not the one handling social media nor an official spokesperson for the school division but that any comments “accusing” the school division of anything are being deleted because they are “not appropriate.”
“Same as if I accused you on your website,” he says.
He adds any deleted comments received the same follow up message. Czaban says none of the deleted comments came directly from parents, and that other family members are still not parents. He says he had assumed this reporter was another family member before speaking on the phone.
Czaban would not confirm if STARS transported a student, but seemed to imply they left without transporting anyone, saying, “Last I saw they were flying away.”
Asked to clarify since STARS has confirmed someone was transported, he says, “So you’re telling me.”
Czaban is also on the local fire department.
In a phone interview, Supt. Kevin Andrea says the division’s social media presence is “not a rant and rave page, nor is it a media outlet.”
He says it is moderated to prevent “back and forth.”
“We don’t want information and speculation getting out there,” he says.
Andrea says the school’s public notice was only to inform parents further down the route why there was a delay.
He adds it is not the division’s job to inform the general public about the seriousness of the bus accident, and the division is bound by confidentiality rules from saying too much.
He confirms the school division did not issue a news release on the incident.
“The people best to make a comment would be the parents,” he says.
“Regardless of culpability, we’re always concerned about everyone involved and about students. That’s our business,” Andrea says.
He says the division’s focus is on ensuring the students involved are getting support.
“The school principal has been the lead contact with the families giving them the supports required as these kids work on recovery,” Andrea says.
“No one is going to deny that it is a very significant accident.”
As for whether the bus driver who was involved in the accident is still on the job, Andrea says, “We know the bus driver is not on the route.”
Golden Arrow, the bus company contracted to handle the route, did not respond to requests for comment.
Golden Arrow’s website says that “student transportation plays an important role in a child’s education” and states their staff “excels in ensuring your children arrive safely every day.”
On Oct. 13, Czaban gave a report to school trustees at NGPS’s board meeting and said school bus drivers are in short supply due to COVID isolation requirements.
Czaban adds he would like to see the provincial requirement for 50 hours of Mandatory Entry Level Training [MELT] eliminated as a pre-employment requirement.
He also praised the bus contractors the division is using.
“The contractors are doing a stellar job,” Czaban says in an Oct. 22 Whitecourt Star article.