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Bus crash, driver DUI leads to new transportation measures in D.C. schools

District leaders are conducting a review of transportation companies and asking schools to complete safety checklists before trips

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee announced new transportation safety polices following a recent bus crash and driver DUI. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
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The District’s public school system is overhauling some of its safety protocols a week after a bus driver crashed a school bus of Murch Elementary students and was charged with driving while intoxicated.

System leaders are conducting a review of the district’s transportation companies, a process that includes making sure drivers have the correct licenses and endorsements, checking drivers’ traffic records and ensuring vehicles have the proper equipment. The district also will perform safety reviews of its vendors on a quarterly basis, rather than annually, Lewis Ferebee, the district’s chancellor, said.

Individual schools are also required to make sure bus drivers have valid commercial driver’s licenses, as well as complete other items on a new safety checklist before sending students out on trips, officials said.

“We know we had a contractor that didn’t have all the measures in place that we think would have prevented this situation,” Ferebee said Friday.

Fairfax County police said Troy Reynolds, 48, was driving a bus full of D.C. schoolchildren from a field trip at Cox Farms in Centreville, Va., when he veered off Braddock Road and hit a rock. The Oct. 27 accident damaged the rim and rear tire of the bus.

Nine students were treated at the scene of the crash for non-life-threatening injuries, police said in a statement after the accident. A total of 44 children were on the bus. D.C. public school officials said one staff member was also injured and sought medical care.

The school system has already cut ties with Rome Charters, the transportation company that it had hired since 2016 and one of three companies it used for field trips and extracurricular activities. City officials are also beginning a process that will bar the company from doing any business in the District, Ferebee said.

Between four and six schools that had contracted with Rome Charters rescheduled trips this week, Ferebee added. Officials are working with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, which has drivers who are government employees and can fill in gaps as the school system looks for a new transportation vendor.

Bus driver taking Murch students home from field trip charged with DWI

The chancellor met this week with parents at Murch, where he fielded questions. “I’m extremely sorry that that happened to their children, and it’s my hope that there’s no lingering impact to them physically, mentally, emotionally,” Ferebee said in an interview. “We wanted them to understand our path forward to ensure that these types of incidents don’t occur in the future.”

But some parents at the school in Northwest Washington were disappointed with how the meeting with Ferebee unfolded. Lexi Lishinski, whose kindergartner was on board during the accident, entered the meeting hoping to understand how the school system vets drivers and why their process failed.

“But we didn’t really get into that,” the 35-year-old education researcher said. “It seems like, at each step of the process, [Ferebee] sort of deflected the responsibility to different entities.”

Lishinski’s son hit his head on a window during the accident, but “he seems physically okay.” And although it seems unlikely that something similar will happen on future bus trips, “I don’t feel great about putting my son on a bus for a field trip with them,” Lishinski said.

The fear has even trickled to other schools, said Lexi Smith, a parent at Payne Elementary School in Southeast Washington. She said the school, where she volunteers and helps arrange field trips, proactively checked a driver’s license before an outing this week.

Parents also criticized what they said was incomplete or untimely communication from the school district. Others wrote Ferebee afterward with thankful emails. “Hopefully we can learn from this incident and put in new practices and oversight so it doesn’t happen again,” one parent wrote.

Reynolds, of Maryland, was charged with driving while intoxicated with a child and nine counts of reckless care for a child. Fairfax County police said Reynolds, whose blood alcohol level registered at 0.20 while he was booked in jail — more than two-times the legal limit in Virginia — already had his license revoked from a prior charge of driving while intoxicated when he drove the bus full of Murch students Thursday.

Two other bus drivers — one of whom was taking Murch students back to D.C. in another bus, and the other who arrived later to pick children up after the crash — were also charged with not having valid commercial licenses to drive a school bus, Fairfax County police Capt. Rachel Levy said.

Reynolds was booked in the jail, where he was held without bail, police said. A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 14. The public defender’s office, which was listed as Reynolds’ attorney, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.