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School Officials Discuss Bus Crash

Aired April 27, 2001 - 09:01   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we want to take you to more information now about the bus crash that took place in Canada. This is the principal of the school involved in the crash. Let's go ahead and listen in.

JEFFREY YOUNG, SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT: The information that we have at this time is that there was a bus accident in Canada and there were some fatalities. I also want to introduce Mayor David Cohen, the mayor of Newton. There was some number of fatalities. We're in touch with the Canadian police right now to determine the exact number of those. I'm not going to comment on any of the news reports as to the number of students who died in this terrible accident.

The students were part of a special trip to a school in Canada. It was the school band, the seventh and eighth grade school band from the Oak Hill Middle School here in Newton. Last year, a middle school from Canada came here to perform and as part of an exchange, our students were going to Canada to perform and participate in a competition there.

There are a number of parents of children who are in the building right now. We've just had one initial meeting with the parents and have told them that we will reconvene all the parents at 10:00 to give them information about traveling to Canada and about getting the children back here to Newton.

In addition, there was, early this morning the principal ran an assembly for all of the students in the school to inform them of this tragedy. As the day wears on, counselors from the school, counselors from the city, the crisis team which is mobilized in Newton with the help of school and city officials as well as a number of private individuals, particularly from Newton-Wellesley (ph) Hospital, are available now to children and parents and will be available throughout the day to children and parents for counseling purposes.

The crisis team is mobilized. We will be keeping Oak Hill school open this afternoon until 5:00. We'll reopen with crisis counselors until, starting at seven and then until 9:00 P.M. this evening. The school will be open. Tomorrow and Sunday from 10:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. for children and parents and other citizens to come and get both more information as well as counseling on this.

The principal, at the end of the day, will be sending home a letter with all of the students to keep them as well as their parents informed of the latest information as we have it.

I'm going to introduce Marvin Shapiro to say a word. You can both take questions.

QUESTION: Principal Shapiro, could you tell us what is it like inside? I'm sure you never in your wildest imagination could have ever anticipated having to deal with a situation like this as a school principal. What is the mood inside? What's the reaction of the kids and the parents?

MARVIN SHAPIRO, OAK HILL PRINCIPAL: Well, it's certainly very somber inside. What is, I guess, the good side is that there's been tremendous support from the entire school system so there are lots of adults around to be with the kids, to talk with the kids and to be as helpful as possible to them.

Kids react in very different ways. Some are very sad and crying, others are shocked. It goes the entire gamut. But there are adults. The kids are together and able to talk with one another and with the adults.

QUESTION: Mr. Shapiro, how exactly are you getting your information in terms of the people who are injured, the kids who are injured or whomever it might be? And do you have an understanding of exactly how many kids are injured and how many adults are injured?

YOUNG: We are working with the Newton police, who are in direct contact with the police in Canada. I'm expecting a call very shortly from Canada with the specifics about that. We do not have specific names of any of the fatalities or injured parties at this time.

QUESTION: So right now you're just relying on the parents who have told you that their children have called them?

YOUNG: What we're doing is waiting for the call from Canada.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea how many of the students' actually had to be treated at hospitals?

SHAPIRO: I don't think we have that specific information at this time. I know that there was triage down at the scene and those with more serious injuries were brought to St. John's, New Brunswick and others were treated at a local medical center. But I don't have the numbers or any names connected with that.

QUESTION: I've heard some conflict on the time of the crash. Have you been able to pin down a precise time?

SHAPIRO: I don't have any specific information about the time.


QUESTION: Have you received a phone call from the adults on the trip, the chaperones for the kids?

SHAPIRO: I received a call from one of the chaperones at 5:45 this morning.

QUESTION: Can you share with us what the adult said?

SHAPIRO: Basically she said there was an accident, that she was OK -- she was at the health center -- and that she was with the children who had been brought to the health center. She was not aware of any other information. She did know that children were brought to St. John's along with some of the adults.

QUESTION: Are any of the children who are hospitalized in a condition that may be life threatening? Are there still children that may be in critical condition?

SHAPIRO: Yeah, we don't have that information at this point but we hope to have it shortly.

QUESTION: Principal Shapiro, there's some question about why an overnight (OFF-MIKE)? Why is that?

SHAPIRO: Yeah, I'm not sure I can answer that at this point but I'll be happy to sort of talk about that in the future. Right now we're focusing on this issue.

QUESTION: Sir, do you know if the bus driver stopped? Did the bus driver just drive straight through?

SHAPIRO: We know that there were two bus drivers and that they had changed bus drivers on the way.

QUESTION: So this was the second bus driver who was at the wheel when the accident happened as far as you know?

SHAPIRO: As far as I know, that's correct.

QUESTION: And do you know who that bus driver is?

QUESTION: Can you tell us your thinking about...


QUESTION: ... about how you're going to do the counseling, why you're keeping the kids in the school rather than sending them home? What's the thinking on how you're progressing here?

YOUNG: I'll start if you want.


YOUNG: In general, we feel that school is the safest place for children to be. It's a place where they can be a community, where the kids can help one another, where they can share their pain with one another. There are teachers here who are outstanding professionals. There are crisis counselors who have been summoned to the scene. Newton has dealt with crisis before and although one never gets used to it, we feel like we have the resources here to bring to bear on the situation within the schoolhouse. QUESTION: Mr. Superintendent, I noticed a couple of parents looked as if they were leaving with their children. Is that option also available to parents?

YOUNG: To, you mean to take their children home during the school day?

QUESTION: I saw one parent obviously comforting a child leaving the grounds 15 or 20 minutes ago.

YOUNG: Yeah, we don't have any objections?

SHAPIRO: No, not at all. That's always an option.

YOUNG: Yeah.

QUESTION: Mr. Young, some of the people who have been coming out, some of the parents who have been coming out have indicated that there have been, that kids have been very upset, very distraught inside dealing with the unknown. We know you lost another child in the school system. They're saying that you lost another child in the school system a short time ago, I believe over at the Brown School...

YOUNG: That's correct.

QUESTION: ... and these kids haven't gotten over that yet. Could you talk to us about how the kids are dealing with this? It sounds like they're having a very tough time.

YOUNG: Kids understandably are having a very tough time dealing with this, particularly given that it's unknown. The adults are having a tough time dealing with it. Any time there's a death of a child it's hard to imagine what can be a more tragic and devastating experience than that. We did have the death of a student at the Brown Middle School, which is right over there next door to this one, about a month ago. And the school was deeply shaken by that. The whole city was rocked by that and we are just gearing up to do our best to help the kids through today and the weekend.

QUESTION: Again, the adult who called you, did she recount to you, I imagine, what she remembers of what happened?

SHAPIRO: She specifically said that she was asleep as well as she thought that most of the bus was asleep. So she didn't have any knowledge. I asked her if she knew what had happened and she said she really didn't.

QUESTION: Could you tell us, if you know, if these drivers for this particular travel company were familiar with these roads in New Brunswick?

SHAPIRO: I have no information on that.

QUESTION: One of the fathers told us that the children were (OFF-MIKE). Were the children told this morning at the assembly that there were some children that died in the accident? SHAPIRO: Not specifically, no.

QUESTION: They weren't?

SHAPIRO: No, they have been connected to the press. I believe they heard in coming to school and that goes around very quickly. They were told that there had been a very serious accident, that the kids on the seventh and eighth grade band trip to Nova Scotia had a bus accident and that it was very serious and there were some very seriously injured children on that bus.

QUESTION: So they still don't know, conceivably, that some of their classmates died in this accident?

SHAPIRO: I can't respond to that. I guess there may be someone who doesn't, but I believe they all know.

QUESTION: How long has the exchange been going on?

SHAPIRO: This is the, this is our first experience with it. This school, Oak Hill is only in its fourth year of existence and Gaetz Brook Middle School came to Boston in general last year and we volunteered through a connection to host them for a potluck supper and to do a joint concert with them here and they invited us back to do a joint concert with them this year in their school.

QUESTION: Can we ask Mayor Cohen one question. Mayor, what can the city do here? Obviously you have some of your young citizens, the students in the school in Canada, you have parents who want to be reconnecting with them. Is there any service that the City of Newton can provide?

MAYOR DAVID COHEN, NEWTON, MASSACHUSETTS: Well, the city cooperates fully with the school department. We have a joint city- school crisis team which has been called into action. We have notified members of the clergy who are coming and making themselves available to counsel. I think that one of the things that is very important in a tragedy like this is that we all stand together and I believe that my presence and the presence of other city officials here at this hour of really need and great distress is critically important.

QUESTION: Will the city be able to help expedite the return of the uninjured students or to help expedite the passage of parents to Canada for reunification with the children?

COHEN: Actually, the schools and Superintendent Young and principal, and the principal have, Principal Shapiro, have been working on that and the superintendent can probably tell you in detail about that.


YOUNG: All right, let me try to take this first. There are a couple of things with regard to transportation that we're working on and I just, I'm going to take one more question after this because we need to get back inside. We have been in touch with Air Canada, who has made and offer for getting people from here up to Canada, from Boston to Canada. The details of that still need to be worked out as far as the number of people they can transport and so on.

There are also a number of people who have private planes who have called us in just the last half an hour who have volunteered to take small numbers of people up in, I guess, turbo planes or...

QUESTION: These are people from outside the City of Newton?

YOUNG: I don't know if they're residents, frankly, or not. But they've called in to assist in that way.

Let me just take one more question then I really need to get back in.

QUESTION: Where are all the kids being held there? Are they all still being held in the hospital or...

YOUNG: I'll know more about that right, in a few minutes. We're really waiting for the call from Canada to get that kind of information.

What I do want to say to the press is that I know how you need to do your jobs, but I want to express the fact that I really value your staying on this side of the street and respecting the needs of the kids and their families for a little bit of peace across the street. Thank you very much for that.

We're going to be meeting with the parents again at 10:00. We'll be available to you after that meeting if you wish to hang around or those of you who can, we'll be able to speak, I hope, with some more information at that time.

QUESTION: If you could come back out...

KAGAN: We've been listening to an update from school and city officials from Newton, Massachusetts -- that is a suburb outside of Boston -- about a tragic bus accident that has taken place in Canada. A middle school bus from Newton, Oak Hill Middle School, filled with children heading to Halifax, Canada, heading there to take part in an exchange music program. This bus has crashed earlier today, Associated Press saying five people were killed. A number of other people on board this bus were critically injured.

Most of the people on this bus are seventh and eighth graders and their chaperones taking place. The idea of this program had a good spirit. These children from Halifax had been down in the Newton, Massachusetts area last year to take part in a concert and then these children from Newton, Massachusetts had been invited back so that they could play in a concert this year. It is this exchange program which was bringing the children up to Canada.

Once again, five people killed. We're not sure if those are children or if they are the chaperones on board. We expect to get more information on the situation as the morning goes on. You heard officials there say they expect to meet with parents at the school in the next hour and hold another briefing after that. We will bring that to you here on CNN.



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