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Parents alarmed by school bus driver’s lapse

The Inter-Mountain photo by Tim MacVean  Concerned parent Julie Ketterman, of Harman, voices her concern about an incident on the Harman bus route during a Randolph County Board of Education meeting Tuesday.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Tim MacVean
Concerned parent Julie Ketterman, of Harman, voices her concern about an incident on the Harman bus route during a Randolph County Board of Education meeting Tuesday.

ELKINS, W.Va. — The Randolph County Board of Education heard complaints from concerned parents about an incident on a Harman bus route and discussed future plans for the Harman School Tuesday.

Julie Ketterman, a parent of a student on the Harman bus route, said during the Thursday morning incident the driver of the bus momentarily fell asleep.

“During the travel to Elkins that morning, bus 23-A, that was transporting Harman kids, the driver fell asleep and nearly wrecked the bus,” Ketterman told the BOE. “My second grader was on this bus. This incident caused my son and several other little kids to fall out of their seats and my son fell out of his seat into the aisle of the bus. These kids could have been seriously hurt and this was very scary and traumatizing for these kids.”

Ketterman began to get choked up as she asked Randolph County Superintendent Terry George how long the students would be bused from Harman to Elkins. The Harman School is temporarily closed for repair work.

“What does it take? A serious accident, even a child’s life, for realization that these kids do not need to continue the dangerous travel over these mountains?” Ketterman asked.

Later in the meeting, George said, “The bus incident, Mrs. Ketterman, we spoke about that. You understand that I have already taken action on that, so that issue had been resolved long before you got here.”

Speaking to The Inter-Mountain after Tuesday’s BOE meeting, George confirmed the incident had taken place and that the school system had taken action regarding the driver of the bus.

“We did have a bus operator who experienced a problem and fell asleep,” George said. “He revived, he corrected the bus, he brought the bus into Elkins at which time he voluntarily reported that incident to his supervisor.

“The supervisor then followed protocol and told him he would not be driving again,” George said. “He has been directed to seek medical evaluation at a doctor of our choosing. He will not be operating a bus until such a time that the process is completed. His status will then be determined based upon if he is deemed medically fit to operate a school bus.”

George said the incident was not drug- or alcohol- related.

He added he was glad no one was injured and said he still believed that Randolph County has some of the safest buses in the state.

“We did have an unfortunate incident on our bus. Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured,” George said. “If you check Randolph County’s bus records we probably have one of the safest bus routes in the state of West Virginia. We still feel it’s the safest way to transport children to school.”

Two weeks ago, parents also came before the BOE with concerns about the same bus driver allegedly cursing at and in front of their children while he was driving a different route.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Karen Huffman, who has four students enrolled in Harman School, and Harman resident Linda Teter asked for updates on the status of the Harman School’s repairs.

George said he provides updates on Harman School to the BOE at every meeting and stressed officials are working to open up as many rooms in the school as possible.

He estimated the funding required to fix the issues necessary to keep the school open will be anywhere from $2.4 million to $3 million. George said the cost of the project may prompt the BOE to submit a needs project to the School Building Authority.

“We approved a base bid contract at $145,300. The environmental work, the structural review and some miscellaneous unit costs take that total to $156,500,” George said. “The change orders that we have asked for and have received for preparing the gymnasium to be used for athletics, so it can be used for classes, so that students can go through and go into the rooms that are on the other side of the gymnasium, so that it can be used for public events, so that it can be used for dances, meetings, graduations, your athletic season this year, the total change order for that total $61,667.

“With the architect/engineer fees that we are responsible for paying for the architects to do all the work on the project, that’s approximately $25,000, which is a set percentage for the total project, bringing our total cost, if we approve the change orders, to $243,167,” George said.

“That gets the school open with the exception of the rooms on either end of the hallway as you go into the entrance,” he continued. “That will be contingent upon the board approving, me contacting the contractor and approving the change orders. That means we are slightly over the budget for the money we have already collected.

“The board will have to absorb that cost. So, once we get that completed and we get that open for students we hope that the original project is going to be completed sometime near the end of October,” George said. “The change orders in the gym may take a little longer. We anticipate students being able to use the front section of the school to go through to the classrooms, cafeteria and kitchen even while the work in the gymnasium is going on.”

George said the work on the rest of the school was estimated at between $800,000 to $900,000, both by the School Building Facilities Office in Charleston.

The meeting concluded with George asking the BOE to give him permission to talk to the contractor regarding the change orders so they can purchase supplies and begin working. The BOE voted unanimously to give George permission.

Harman School was deemed unsafe after an entire plaster ceiling fell in one of the school’s classrooms during the July 4 weekend, bringing down 2 tons of material. No one was present at the time in the school, During the summer, MSES Consultants estimated emergency repairs to make Harman School safe for students would cost approximately $175,000.

Harman School students are now being taught at Elkins High School and the Randolph Technical Center by their own Harman School instructors. Pre-k through second-grade students are housed at Jennings Randolph Elementary School – intact as Harman School, with their own Harman School instructors. Students in grades 3 through 5 are housed intact – as Harman School – at Midland Elementary School.

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