Pontotoc County sheriff’s deputies were called to ensure order at a Vanoss School board meeting Monday after several angry parents voiced their concerns.
Parents were angry over an incident where a five-year-old student fell from a Vanoss school bus in May, and school officials refused to call for emergency services for the boy who was injured.
The meeting was moved from its usual location to the library after the crowd grew to several dozen people. Tension boiled over after officials refused to allow public comment.
Vanoss Superintendent Janet Blocker, during a superintendent report, gave her reasoning for the refusal.
Blocker received a letter June 6 from more than a dozen parents asking to discuss several things including, but not limited to, emergency procedures on school buses and discussion of head injuries from qualified nurses who were in attendance.
“I followed board policy and I denied that request,” Blocker said. “I informed our board president of this denial and I shared my reasoning with (him). I would like to state those reasons to the rest of the board.”
One reason for the denial was the large number of items on Monday’s agenda.
“We have already heard public comment at our last meeting about the incident on (May 3), and board policy prohibits repetitive comments,” Blocker said. “We also have a policy that allows an item to be placed on the agenda for the board to discuss and that is the purpose of our board and those concerns presented to us in May are not on our agenda tonight. Further, board policy requires the board refer all complaints to school administration for study and possible action.”
Blocker said she would be willing to meet with any individual with any concern they might have during normal business hours.
After those in attendance learned their comments would not be heard, several whispered their anger to each other as the board continued discussing agenda items.
After several minutes, one person asked, “what if we have questions out here?”
“You are not allowed to speak at this moment,” a school board member replied.
“When are we allowed to speak?” another person asked. “At the end of the meeting?”
An uproar ensued as several parents angrily protested not being allowed to speak about the school bus incident. After several attempts by the board to quash the verbal melee, Blocker took out her cell phone and began dialing.
“She’s calling 911,” one parent said.
“Now she finally calls 911!” another parent yelled. “You go right ahead lady! You go right ahead. I want all of you to see this is what she calls 911 for. This is what she calls an emergency. A concerned citizen from the Vanoss community speaks and so they call 911!”
“But not for the kid that fell off the bus!” another person yelled.
The uproar subsided slightly and the board continued with regular business. Sheriff’s deputies arrived a few minutes later to police the situation.
The incident which had parents fuming at the meeting occurred May 3 when elementary student Trenton Barger fell through a school bus’s front doors as it rounded a curve on a county road after school.
There are conflicting stories on where the child was sitting, but the child’s parents believe he was sitting on the steps of the bus. Barger told his parents and authorities he was sitting on the steps. The parents believe it was a disciplinary measure after the boy got into trouble on the bus. Barger’s parents were upset school officials did not call 911, but instead drove the boy home.
Blocker said school officials determined he had suffered no life threatening injuries and took Barger back to the school where they attempted to reach his parents.
Barger’s parents took him to a hospital after school officials drove him home. Barger suffered cuts and abrasions to his arm and hand, injuries to his back (road rash) and head abrasions.
School officials didn’t believe Barger’s injuries were serious. Blocker said she feels school officials did the right thing.
A Vanoss volunteer firefighter, Wesley Bittle, attended the meeting and said he arrived at the scene when the boy fell from the bus. He said he offered to help or radio central dispatch, but was turned away by the bus driver, Gary Johnson, and Danny Pittman, with Vanoss Schools.
“They wouldn’t let me get close to the boy,” Bittle said. “They said they had all the first aid they needed.”
Authorities are unsure of how fast the bus was traveling when Barger fell out, but the suggested speed limit around the curve is 35 miles-per-hour.
Ronnie Hampton, troop commander of Oklahoma Highway Patrol Troop F, said when there is an incident where someone receives any type of injury involving a vehicle, or there is property damage, it must be reported. If a person falls from a moving vehicle, it is considered a vehicle wreck, he said.
“What someone is required to do is notify the highway patrol, or the local police agency,” Hampton said. “At that point, it would trigger a emergency response for care and investigation. You would want to stay at the scene until law enforcement and first responders arrive so we can conduct our investigation.”
Johnson was not cited by OHP, but he was
Boy, parents attend meeting
The boy at the center of the controversy, Trenton Barger, attended Monday’s meeting along with his mother and stepdad, the boy still bearing scares from the incident.
Barger’s stepdad, William McAnally, said the boy is still suffering from the incident.
“We’ve got him seeing a councilor now because he’s clearly traumatized,” McAnally said. “He’s still going to doctor visits just in case they missed something because he had a bad concussion.”
McAnally said he wanted to question school officials at the meeting on why they didn’t call for emergency help.
“Why would the bus driver, or whoever it may be, have him sitting on the steps?” McAnally said. “She said she didn’t know in a letter what hospital to take him to, I don’t care, take him to any hospital.”
One concerned parent, Amie Ellis, said she came to the meeting to voice she has no confidence in Blocker as superintendent.
“After three administrative personnel make the decision not to call 911 when a child falls off the bus, and then you have (those three) get that child who is bleeding from the head — my child witnessed it — load that child up in a van, drive him home ... to me, that tells me my child’s safety at the school is in question, and it’s very concerning to me as a parent.”
Amie Ellis’s husband, Bo Ellis, said he is angry because he believes the welfare of the child concerning the incident wasn’t the school administration’s first priority.
“The first thing she did was seek legal council,” Bo Ellis said. “If I had a child in my care, and they had an accident, my first reaction would be to get help, not call my lawyer. That doesn’t sit well with me.”
Light at the end of the tunnel
The school board entered into executive session to discuss pending claims and litigation with legal council. Upon returning from executive session, the board
discussed an emergency action plan.
“What I want the board to discuss tonight is the fact that we do not have, spelled out, an emergency action plan that says if a child gets injured, while under our supervision — and that’s whether they’re on the bus, whether they’re on the playground, whether they’re in the classroom — we do not have a spelled out action plan,” Blocker said. “What we do understand is that the adult that is directly supervising those children would act as the parent, and in most cases, that adult will contact, if possible, and administrator. That administrator then acts as the parent.”
Blocker said school administration has very general procedures they follow in an emergency.
“What I would like is for the board to start discussing, openly, some of your (parents) concerns about our action plan in general and then at the end if you have any advisement, or anything that you would like for us to follow up on, be glad to do so,” Blocker said.
Blocker said faculty must, after a school accident, have written reports; one copy for teachers and one copy for the principal.
“That’s all that we have regarding if a child is injured on the playground, if a child is injured in the classroom, if a child is injured on the bus or a school activity, so I welcome your questions and I will answer any questions that you have,” Blocker said. “I welcome your concerns or anything that you would like for us as a school to check into to update or revise. What questions do you have for me?”
One board member said the community needs to be involved and give some suggestions for an action plan. Board members said there needs to be clear definitions on when an injury is an emergency and when to call for emergency services.
“I’m wondering if we ought to consider some professional development from some health professionals, because as medical terminology changes and research becomes more prevalent, maybe they could advise, especially administrators and coaches and leaders of organizations, on what they feel are the situations that would require (emergency action).”
The board discussed the possibility of having a registered nurse at the school full-time. The board also discussed having all faculty trained in first aid and CPR by qualified professionals, and recognizing when an injury is serious enough to call for an emergency response.
Blocker said currently, as per rule, each building on campus has one certified, and one non-certified individual trained in CPR and first aid. All Vanoss Elementary teachers are trained in CPR and first aid.
The board discussed contacting the Oklahoma State School Boards Association for help with a Vanoss emergency action plan.