A 10-year-old girl who suffered a concussion and whiplash on a Riverhead school bus yesterday sat in class for nearly five hours without medical attention for her injury before her parents learned of the incident.
Susan Tocci, mother of the injured student, said the school district never informed her that her daughter’s bus had nearly been in an accident, nor that her daughter had been injured as a result.
Even after Tocci learned about the incident from her daughter, she says that the district has not been transparent about what happened and that she was unable to even obtain a report from the bus garage to bring to her daughter’s pediatrician.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” Tocci said this morning. “I should have been told right away what happened.”
Yesterday’s incident follows a Riverhead News-Review report that a Riverhead woman was not informed when her four-year-old grandson had been left unattended on a bus at the bus garage.
“It makes me feel like I can’t trust putting my kids on the bus,” Tocci said. “Because when something does happen, you’re not going to get the information needed to fix the problem – even in the case of a medical emergency.”
The injury happened yesterday morning on 6th-grader Olivia’s way to school. Tocci says her daughter’s bus driver stopped short while attempting to turn onto Pulaski Street, causing Olivia to fly forward and slam her head against the back of the seat in front of her.
“She said the brakes were screeching so loud that some kids were yelling that they hit a car, but the bus driver was yelling that they didn’t,” Tocci said.
As Olivia got off the bus, she told the bus driver that she had hit her head and it was hurting. The bus driver’s response, according to Tocci, was that if Olivia “hadn’t been standing up,” she “wouldn’t have gotten hurt.”
“Olivia is a very shy and quiet girl,” Tocci said, “and she told the driver that she wasn’t standing up. And you know what the driver said? ‘Don’t give an attitude to me.’”
The driver then sent Olivia off the bus, without asking her about her condition or getting her medical attention.
Olivia’s friend brought her to the school nurse, who had not been notified of the incident. The nurse called Tocci to tell her Olivia had a headache and that she should sit out of gym.
“There was no reason for her to think it might be a concussion,” Tocci said. “No one from the district told her what happened.”
But Olivia’s headache grew more and more severe throughout the day. Her vision became blurry and she started to feel dizzy. By the afternoon, her teacher noticed Olivia was behaving oddly and decided to have her call her mother.
When Tocci arrived at the school half an hour later, Olivia told her that her school bus had nearly been in a car accident that morning and that she’d hit her head as a result – the first time Tocci learned of the incident.
“She was shaking, she was off-balance, her head was spinning and she felt sick,” Tocci said. “She thought she was getting a flu, but I realized she might have a concussion.”
As she was escorting Olivia from the school, Tocci says she ran into Stephen Hudson, Pulaski’s associate principal. Hudson said the school hadn’t had any report of a bus incident and that he would call Olivia’s bus driver right away.
When Tocci attempted to get an incident report from the Riverhead transportation department before Olivia’s doctor appointment, she says she was repeatedly brushed off and was told that no one, including department director Amala Cain, was available to speak with her. Tocci insisted it was a medical emergency, sending the secretary back several times to underscore the urgency of the situation, but no one came out to give her information.
“I needed to know what happened so the pediatrician would know what type of injuries to look for,” Tocci said. “[The secretary] just kept telling me to leave my name and number.”
Tocci then went to the superintendent’s office next-door, where Cain arrived less than five minutes later. But a meeting with Cain and Sam Schneider, school district assistant superintendent, produced little in the way of answers.
Schneider told her that this was the first he was hearing of the incident. He claimed that Cain had not been told the situation was a medical emergency, and that she hadn’t seen the secretary more than once. He said that the bus, which had been turning left from Griffing Avenue onto Pulaski Street, had been cut off by a car turning right onto Pulaski from North Griffing Avenue – an explanation that Tocci is not satisfied with.
“The bus driver should have gotten my daughter medical attention,” Tocci said. “A report should have been made. I should have been notified.
“Accidents happen,” she added, “but everything that followed shouldn’t have transpired. All they were trying to do was get their ducks in a row before they spoke to a parent. Instead of looking at the most important things – the safety of the child – they’re more concerned with covering their own tracks. It’s sad.”
Olivia was diagnosed with a moderate concussion and whiplash on the side of her neck that afternoon. She will have to miss school for the rest of the week, and she will be reevaluated Friday to see if she can return to class next Monday.
Until then, her concussion will prevent her from watching television, reading books, using electronics or doing any activities that require the extended use of her eyes. She will also need to avoid bright lights, which make her headache worse.
“Her vision is so blurry right now,” Tocci said. “She can barely see.”
District Superintendent Nancy Carney reached out to Tocci this morning to apologize for the way the incident was handled, Tocci said.
“We are looking into the cause of the incident and the reaction of the driver thereafter,” Carney told RiverheadLOCAL today. “I am not at liberty to discuss any disciplinary action being taken against the driver, but we will use this incident to further our training and our procedure exercises with all our drivers.”
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