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Pine Plains BOE thanks bus driver, stays alert to COVID-19 guidance

PINE PLAINS — Determined to stay vigilant for the latest district news and COVID-19 health guidelines, the Pine Plains Central School District (PPCSD) Board of Education (BOE) showed its readiness to take on 2022 at its first meeting of the New Year on Wednesday, Jan. 5.

Bus driver praised

BOE members met via Zoom at 7 p.m. To start, BOE President Anne Arent read aloud a letter from the board addressed to PPCSD Department of Transportation Bus Driver Jill McKibben in acknowledgement of her “extraordinary actions surrounding the unfortunate incident she encountered while driving the district’s bus on Oct. 7, 2021 on Route 82.”

As reported by Captain John Watterson of the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) at a later date, the bus driven by McKibben was driving south on Route 82 near Attlebury Hill in Stanford when a truck backed unsafely out of a driveway.

Unable to avoid the truck, the DCSO reported the school bus struck the truck and continued on, striking a road sign before coming to rest on the westbound shoulder of the road.

In addition to the DCSO, both the Pine Plains and the Stanford Fire Departments responded to the incident. Three minors were reportedly transported from the bus for medical care with non life-threatening injuries. Two students were treated at Northern Dutchess Hospital while the third student was treated at MidHudson Regional Hospital.

“There are things you train for and there are safety protocols that can be learned,” Arent said in reading aloud the BOE’s letter, “but it’s not until a real accident occurs that a person’s ability to react under difficult circumstances come to the floor.”

Addressing McKibben via the board’s letter, Arent said, “This board is extremely thankful to you for the handling of this incident. We offer our deepest thanks for your efforts maintained under duresses.”

Looking at the video of the accident, Superintendent of Schools Martin Handler said due to McKibben’s actions, the district avoided what could have been a much worse situation.

“She reacted quickly and couldn’t avoid the collision, but avoided having it as a worse incident than what it was.”

Handler later remarked on how all the emergency agencies were instrumental in getting the students the medical care they needed quickly and efficiently.

As well as voicing the BOE expressing its gratitude in having McKibben as a bus driver in the district, Arent marveled at how successfully she handled the emergency and then came right back to work, adding, “What an impressive woman.”

COVID update

In light of the recent COVID-19 spike and the rise of the omicron variant, Handler discussed the PPCSD’s ability to hold classes in-person, which he said has been made possible through its administrators, nurses, health and teaching staff. Though it hasn’t been an easy situation and the district’s attendance has had around 20% absenteeism, Handler said the PPCSD has been fortunate and has been able to piece together coverage for its classes for when staff members are out.

Handler spoke of district efforts to get COVID-19 test kits from New York State distributed to Dutchess County on Sunday, Jan. 2. He extended his thanks to staff members Julia Tomaine, Tricia Adenine and Janine Babcock for giving up their Sunday afternoon to help distribute the kits. That day, Handler said Pine Plains gave out 372 test kits and has distributed more than 100 additional kits since then.

Handler also brought up the spike in positive COVID cases among students and staff, adding many of the student cases were detected using the state-provided COVID-19 test kits.

He said he was pleased to see parents using the test kits. Talking about the district’s mitigation efforts, Handler said Pine Plains is continuing its Test-to-Stay program and offering regular surveillance testing.

He said the the Test-to-Stay protocols have been modified so instead of having unvaccinated students tested every day over a period of time and remain in school, testing can be done three times at the beginning, middle and end of the testing period.

Handler mentioned that he and Director of Curriculum and Instruction Brian Timm talked about updating the BOE on the new COVID-19 guidance issued by the state, which he said changes almost momentarily. He said once they receive guidance, they’ll inform the BOE as well as district parents.

Given the challenge of sorting through the guidance received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the New York State Department of Health and the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral and Community Health, Handler said they’re hoping to get all the guidance tied together in a cohesive way.

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