Amidst parent concerns, P.C. admins say buses are safe
November 16, 2023 at 1:45 a.m.
Philip Silano, the assistant superintendent for business in the Port Chester School District, said the district is pleased with the performance of County Coach and trusts the company with the safety of its students.
(Courtesy photo of Unsplash)
During the public comments period at the Port Chester Board of Education meeting on Oct. 19, two mothers expressed concerns inspired by recent events that disturbed parents across New York.
The parents, Port Chester Band Parents Association Co-Presidents Mary Rae d’Esperies and Evita Sanchez, wanted reassurance that their children—and all high school students—who participate in the band would be safe during trips to performances.
It was a probe of relevance due to a disaster that garnered attention earlier this school year. On Sept. 21, a bus carrying 40 students and four adults from Farmingdale High School, located in Long Island, crashed while on its way to a band camp in Greely, Penn. The crash resulted in over 40 people injured and the deaths of two teachers.
“In light of what happened with Farmingdale and that unfortunate accident,” d’Esperies said at the meeting, “we just wanted to know what kind of procedures are in place with County Coach, the company that we use now, to make sure that these buses are taken care of.”
The parents also mentioned previous incidents regarding mechanical issues that added to their concerns.
At the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez said that while she didn’t have any information on hand, she would follow up with d’Esperies and Sanchez. And the Westmore News did the same, inquiring about the security of the school district’s contract with County Coach.
“We’re very satisfied with how they’ve operated,” Assistant Superintendent for Business Philip Silano said. “County Coach has been the district’s provider for several years, and there’s no real concern with them.”
In accordance with the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT), any bus that is being used to transport children from a school to an event must adhere to a wide array of laws and regulations for both the vehicle and driver.
“All the drivers have to be screened for security, go through all kinds of safety training,” Silano said. “Every day, the drivers and mechanics do inspections of the buses.”
During their shifts, drivers are mandated to perform both pre-trip and post-trip checks of the vehicle, going over a safety checklist.
They must check the functionality of the brakes, steering, lights, doors and more in order for the bus to be used for the day—a check that determines whether the vehicle will go on the road. These practices are checked by government officials periodically.
The DOT has classifications for all bus companies that can be used throughout the state. They are based on the number of failed random inspections performed by department officials.
The bus company that was transporting the Farmingdale students is currently listed as “unacceptable,” as it had failed one-third of its inspections. County Coach is listed as an “acceptable” bus operator by the DOT, having only failed 15 out of 142 assessments in the 2022-2023 fiscal year, missing the “preferred” designation by only one inspection, as the cutoff is failing less than 10 percent of them.
However, the company’s designation hasn’t affected how the buses have been operating for the high school band.
“From our standpoint, we’re confident that County Coach does a good job,” Silano said. “We’ve had 102 trips so far, with only two incidents.”
The two incidents in question, which d’Esperies brought up to the Board of Education, were mechanical in nature. According to Silano, one instance was a flat tire while crossing the Throgs Neck Bridge, caused by an object on the road, and the other event was an engine issue that occurred after the band arrived at MetLife Stadium for a competition.
When speaking of the incident on the bridge, d’Esperies said students had to wait for several hours for another bus to be sent. But they were fortunate enough to receive help from the Band Parents Association.
“Parents that were following the bus stopped,” she said. “They had to transport them from where the buses were stopped to gas stations to take them to the bathroom while they waited for the buses to come back.”
While both situations were resolved without injury, Silano assures Port Chester students are secure with County Coach.
“We’re confident that the buses are being inspected and maintained,” he said. He added there are procedures in place for mechanical issues, which sees new buses dispatched to wherever they are needed.
“We don’t cut corners when it comes to transporting our students,” Silano said. With a breakdown rate of less than 2 percent, County Coach, he believes, has the band performers in good hands.