Nine children were injured Wednesday morning when a school bus carrying students for James M. Singleton Charter School overturned on the I-10 high rise. The driver was apparently driving without a permit.
According to police, the bus was coming down the high-rise near Louisa Street when the driver lost control and struck a guardrail, flipping the bus onto its side. Police said nine students were taken to hospitals for treatment, where they are all listed in stable condition. NOLA Public Schools said 15 students were on board when the accident happened.
"The district’s top priority at this time is to ensure the children receive the care they need as they recover from this accident," a statement read from NOLA Public Schools.
The district said the five students that did not appear to be injured were also taken to Children's Hospital by their parents for evaluation.
Like many New Orleans charter schools, Singleton contracts is bus service out to a private company -- Hammond Transportation. A spokeswoman for the City of New Orleans, LaTonya Norton, confirmed reporting by WWL that the bus driver, Chad Rodney, had been denied a school bus driving permit by the city in September due to a 2016 drug conviction. Norton also confirmed Hammond Transportation never brought in the bus for the city's new safety inspection.
Hammond Transportation's CEO Mark Hammond did not return request for comment. The company runs buses from many other New Orleans charter schools.
Accident Comes After Efforts By City To Improve Bus Safety
The accident comes after new rules by the city to regulate school buses appear to have been ignored.
In a traditional school district, the district owns and operates schools buses, hires drivers and is responsible for making sure buses are safe. But in New Orleans' unique system of over 80 charter schools, nearly all schools contract their bus service out to private companies. A 2018 investigation by the City of New Orleans found widespread safety problems with the privately-owned and operated buses. Months later, the city decided to start requiring safety inspections of school buses, and regulating them similarly to the way the city regulates taxis and limos.
However, this fall a WWNO investigation revealed more than 80 percent of New Orleans' privately owned school buses had yet to pass the new inspection by the September deadline. The city confirmed that the bus involved in Wednesday's accident had not been brought in.
Parent and student advocates are frustrated that families continue to face challenges and safety concerns when it comes to busing.
"A lot of it has to do with the fact that we don't have a stable system to work the bugs out," parent advocate Ashana Bigard said. "Schools are constantly opening and closing, schools are constantly getting contracts with new companies. So the stability is just not there."
Bigard said she gets frequent calls from parents whose children are dropped off at the wrong bus stop. Another common problem is that buses can be hours late, but schools don't always contact parents to tell them, which causes a panic.
WWNO has received similar calls over the years from concerned parents who were left for hours wondering where their children were after the bus didn't arrive on time. In one recent case, a driver for BCH Services got into an accident, took the students off the bus, left them with "a neighbor" and drove away.
"It's crazy," Bigard said. "And the school gets to blame the bus [company], and the bus [company] gets to blame the school for not having the support, and really nothing ever changes."