BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A new independent audit of a deadly Baltimore City School bus crash in 2016 finds necessary changes to prevent it from happening again haven’t occurred. City school officials say otherwise.
This was an independent third-party audit that was suggested by the National Transportation Safety Board during their initial report into the crash last year. The audit claims city schools transportation staff cares about safety but suggests the system they operate in needs a massive overhaul.
In the early morning of hours in November 2016, six people were killed and nearly a dozen others were injured after a Baltimore school bus and an MTA bus collided in southwest Baltimore.
Michelle Kennedy was one of the survivors on board the MTA bus.
“I can’t really go back to work, I tried to go, my body wouldn’t let me,” she said at the time.
A federal investigation into the crash revealed school bus driver Glenn Chappell had a history of seizures and other medical conditions that should have prevented him from ever being put behind the wheel.
WJZ spoke to Chappell’s grandson days after the crash.
“If the physical or medical background check was done, and they found that…he had a condition like this, then they absolutely should not have given him the position,” Neco Williams said.
A lawsuit has since been filed both against the medical provider that cleared Chappell and the company that employed him AA Afordable Transportation.
Though the final NTSB report on the crash has not been released, their initial investigation recommended the state conduct an independent and neutral audit of the crash.
Those findings have now been made public.
It was more than a year ago that a fence at the scene of the crash was lined with poster boards lined with messages honoring the victims.
The audit finds since the accident, “no apparent changes were made to organizational structure or operating practices.” The audit also red flags two drivers employed by city schools who had medical issues that were not discovered on their last examination.
“BCPS continues to be out of compliance with this particular element of disqualifying drivers with medical conditions,” the audit claims.
Baltimore City Schools fired back in a statement, writing many of the recommendations in the audit have already been implemented. In the case of the two drivers, both no longer working for city schools.
BCPS released the following statement:
“Safety is the highest priority of City Schools’ transportation services. Since the tragic accident of November 1, 2016, the district has redoubled efforts to ensure the safety of all who travel on district-provided transportation or share the road with the buses and taxis that serve our students.
“City Schools has completed an initial review of the audit report prepared by School Bus Consultants, and has found that it includes recommendations in several areas that the district has already implemented. Notably, it also omits or misrepresents actions and steps that the district has already taken.
“The most important of these inaccuracies concerns two contractual drivers alleged to have medical conditions that should have disqualified them from driving. In one case, the allegation is factually incorrect: The driver’s vision condition was documented by a federally authorized medical examiner, who certified him as safe to drive with corrective lenses. In the second case, City Schools suspended the driver after he failed to produce required medical documentation. Neither driver currently drives for City Schools.
“While City Schools has always had a process for monitoring driver certification, immediately after the November 2016 accident, the district reviewed all protocols and implemented additional monitoring steps to ensure the fitness to drive of all drivers, including both those directly employed and those employed by contracted transportation providers. The district’s accident review board systematically reviews and documents reports of accidents, and district staff members monitor contractors to ensure they are meeting the obligations of their contracts. This has resulted in permanent disqualification of 22 drivers. The district is now using customized technology tools to track and monitor accidents and driver certifications and specialized software to route buses. Beginning this summer, the GPS technology already in all buses will be leveraged to allow recording of which students are on which buses at any given time.
“Under the leadership of a new director of pupil transportation, the department’s standard operating procedures have been revised, and the director is now working with external partners to ensure that the revised procedures reflect current industry standards. Interviews are underway for key staff positions that, once filled, will enable more effective and efficient deployment of resources. Under the terms of new contracts with bus service providers, City Schools will obtain accident reports directly from insurers.
“The district agrees that transportation is an essential service for the well-being of our students and, as such, should be governed by policy of the Board of School Commissioners. While City Schools adheres to all transportation requirements outlined under federal law, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, staff members will begin this spring to gather stakeholder input and develop a comprehensive policy for Board review, with the goal of adoption for the 2018-19 school year.
“City Schools recognizes that there is always room for improvement in the services it provides, and the district appreciates the detailed recommendations made by the auditor, all of which will be thoroughly reviewed and adopted as warranted. With many of the recommendations already in place, the district is confident that transportation services are meeting high standards of safety, reflecting our commitment to our students, staff, and community.”
Read the full audit here.