HENRYVILLE, Ind. — When a tornado swept through here on March 2, much of the city was damaged, but thanks to West Clark Community Schools’ transportation staff and the district’s administration team, no bus passengers were injured.
The district has approximately 4,500 students and operates 52 school buses — half are district-owned and the other half are contracted. There are three campuses: Borden, Henryville and Silver Creek.
Director of Transportation Jim Scroggin said that on March 2, the transportation personnel were working on end-of-the week tasks and monitoring the weather radar from local news sites.
“We knew there was a possibility of severe weather in the area, as predicted from earlier in the week, and we were aware of potential storms,” he said. “Superintendent Monty Schneider and I discussed our procedures for inclement weather before the afternoon run began.”
(The procedures for bus drivers include evacuating the bus and moving as far away from it as possible. Ideally, drivers should seek shelter in a building, but if that is not an option, they should go into a deep ditch. Drivers must also have an established evacuation plan for their route, and they must have drills with their passengers to ensure that they know the evacuation procedure. In the wake of this tornado, Scroggin said the district is planning to upgrade these procedures.)
In Borden, three special-needs buses had been dispatched before the transportation staff received the tornado warning. While en route, two of the drivers saw the tornado and took shelter in the basements of residents' houses along the route. The third driver traveled away from the storm and was not affected. The rest of the drivers and students at the campus were directed to shelters in a school building.
At Silver Creek, buses are routed on a two-tier system. The first run was complete when the warning came in. The drivers, upon returning, were brought into the building to shelter until the warnings lifted and then they finished their routes.
“At Henryville Elementary, a decision was made by school administrators to dismiss the students about 20 minutes early due to the threat of storms,” Scroggin said. “Shortly after the buses departed, the warnings came in. The actions of the administration and drivers proved to be essential to protecting the well-being of the students."
Scroggin went on to say that several buses serving the Henryville campus encountered the tornado. Two school bus drivers and their passengers took refuge in the basements of residents' houses. Another sought safety in the basement of a church. Three more drivers and their passengers returned to the school, where administrators directed them to shelter within the school.
He also said that the Henryville campus was heavily damaged. In addition, three school buses were destroyed and three sustained extensive damage.
The operation has since received offers from neighboring districts to use their buses, and two of the buses have been repaired. Scroggin said the others will be replaced by contractors’ insurance policies.
While the district faces challenges ahead in the aftermath of the tornado — Henryville Elementary and Henryville High School are still closed due to damage — Scroggin speaks highly of its employees.
“Here at West Clark Schools transportation and throughout the corporation, we are taught to operate as a team. As transportation director, I couldn’t be prouder of the efforts of my staff, drivers and administration,” he said. “Our actions, collectively, proved to ensure the safety and security of the students at each of our campuses.”
The district has also reached out to assist the community. Buses were used to transport residents to emergency shelters, and staff members have volunteered in fundraisers and other relief efforts.