WILBRAHAM — During its Feb. 1 meeting, the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee agreed to eliminate two potential school reconfiguration options ahead of a formal vote on March 7.

After discussion about members and the public’s preferences, the committee decided to remove Option 3 and 4 as possible choices. Members highlighted the cost of each option, over-enrollment concerns, the impact of school transitions on students and the benefits of teacher communication as factors in this decision.

Following the eliminations, the committee now must choose between Option 1, which places grades 2-3 in Stony Hill School and grades 4-5 in Soule Road School, or Option 2, which places grades 2-5 in both Soule Road and Stony Hill. In either option, Thornton W. Burgess School would close, Green Meadows School would contain pre-K to fifth grade, Mile Tree School would teach kindergarten and first grade, Wilbraham Middle School would contain grades 6-7 and Minnechaug Regional High School would teach grades 8-12, according to a report by Superintendent John Provost.

The eliminated Option 3 maintained the same placements as Option 2 but moved grades 6-7 to Thornton W. Burgess School and closed Wilbraham Middle School. Option 4 relocated grades 1-5 to both Soule Road and Wilbraham Middle School, used Thornton W. Burgess School for grades 6-7 and kept the placements to Minnechaug Regional High School, Mile Tree School and Green Meadows School reflected in Option 1 and 2, Provost stated.

Members agreed to decide between the remaining options at the March 7 School Committee meeting in order to craft an article for the Hampden Town Meeting warrant before its deadline on March 15. While a date is not yet known for the Wilbraham Town Meeting, Chair Michal Boudreau said the committee has a “placeholder” for an article in the warrant already.

In addition to the public’s approval, the committee’s ultimate choice of reconfiguration option will also need to be supported by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

However, this can occur after the Town Meeting vote, Provost said.

In a similar discussion, Boudreau also announced that the HWRSD Planning Committee recommended that parental requests for student transitions not be accepted moving forward. Instead, the recommendation stated that the superintendent should address all transitions, rather than parents or the School Committee. This is a change from the current procedure which allows parental requests but does not ensure they are accommodated.

With this recommendation, “there are no transfers unless there’s an educationally compelling reason for it,” Provost explained. He highlighted that this was designed to remove the influence of school perceptions as well as to ensure that students are balanced between schools. He listed the offering of certain programs and a “stay away order” as potential reasons for a transfer.

Bus fire update

Another discussion at the meeting involved an update by Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative Executive Director Alvin Morton on the 2011 Thomas Freightliner bus that caught fire while carrying students on Jan. 12. Provost explained that he asked Morton to attend the Feb. 1 meeting to address concerns of residents following the incident.

While the organization has not discovered the cause of the fire, Morton ensured residents that they were working to ensure students are safe and provided an overview of the organization’s safety procedures. He stated that all buses undergo inspection four times each year and the bus that caught fire had passed its most recent inspections.

“We do not have a determinative cause of what the fire is because there is no agency that actually investigates school bus fires,” Morton explained. “So, our insurance company did come out and all they did was adjuster to look at it to see the damage for the purpose of refurbishing or giving the money for the bus. [The Department of Transportation] does not investigate and actually the R&V Bus Inspecting Unit did come out and look at it but they’re unwilling per policy to give a determined cause … so we’re still trying to get that information for somebody to make a determined cause.”

The fire on Jan. 12 was followed by another incident on Jan. 22 when a bus of the same year and model broke down at the same location as the fire, Morton said. He stated that a new vehicle, a 2025 Bluebird bus, is currently fulfilling that route and “should not have any issues and concerns.”

In addition to yearly inspections, bus drivers complete multiple annual trainings, including training on bus evacuations, emergencies and vehicle inspection. Buses also have “daily visual inspection reports” in the morning and afternoon when drivers review a checklist to ensure the vehicle is safe and working correctly, Morton said.

“They look for everything outside of the vehicle from windshields to mirrors to front windows, headlights, exhaust pipes. They walk around the bus [and] look at the rear door open and close. They check tires, look under the vehicle, look for body damage. They look inside the vehicle for the seats and see if there’s anything left in there. They check all exit doors and windows and you check the fire extinguisher, any type of emergency equipment, first aid equipment,” he said. Drivers also check the brakes, engine, signal lights, windshield wipers, fluids, interior lights, horn, the stop sign handle and the radio during the checklist.

When asked about how the organization plans to prevent further incidents if the buses that experienced issues had passed inspection, Morton stated that the buses’ concerns could have developed between inspections. He went on to say that the organization has “a ballpark figure” on the cause of the fire and has checked the remaining Hampden-Wilbraham buses for the issue but that he could not yet provide details to the public.

Three new bus drivers will also join the Hampden-Wilbraham school district prior to February break and a new app to alert parents to buses’ locations will be released by Tyler Technologies in April, Morton stated.

lmason@thereminder.com | + posts