Mother Of 6-Year-Old Killed On School Bus Seeks Answers From School Board

GRIEVING MOTHER – Najmah Shah, the mother of a 6-year-old township girl killed on a school bus earlier this month, speaks to the Board of Education at its July 27 meeting.

The mother of a 6-year-old girl killed on a school bus earlier this month had two questions for the Board of Education at its July 27 meeting.

Najmah Nash wanted to know if the District is investigating the Montauk bus company, on whose bus her daughter Fajr Atiya Williams was riding when she strangled on a harness holding her on her wheelchair, and also what the District is doing to make sure an accident like that never happens again.

Nash said she felt the answers she was given by schools Superintendent John Ravally were “broad.”

Nash’s daughter, who could neither speak nor walk, was attending a summer program at Claremont Elementary School. On July 17, she was killed on the way to school when, after the bus hit a few bumps, she slumped in her wheelchair and was strangled by the four-point harness keeping her in her wheelchair, which was secured in the back of the bus.

The bus monitor, a 27-year-old New Brunswick woman, was charged with manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child after police said she was sitting in the front of the bus attending to her cell phone while wearing ear buds, police said.

Responding to Nash’s questions, Ravally said the District has been working with local police and the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office “to investigate any and all potential leads to anybody who might have been involved.”

Regarding Nash’s second question, Ravally said, “We do several things to ensure compliance and we’re going to continue to do those things.”

The answers weren’t specific, Nash said, “but given the environment, I figure I will get more of a thorough explanation at a later time once I reach out directly to the Board.”

Nash said after the meeting that two things will bring her satisfaction.

“I won’t be satisfied until (the defendant) is in prison and doing time for what she’s done,” she said.

“I also won’t be satisfied until something happens, something changes, a policy change,” she said. “The procedures, safety, everything. Once things are actually changing and they sit down and say we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that, and actually do it, then I will be satisfied.”

Ravally started the meeting with an extended statement about the girl’s death, focusing on the District’s efforts to ensure the safety of its students.

“Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the family and friends of the young student who lost her life due to what law enforcement has described as negligence on the part of an employee of one of our transportation vendors,” he said.

“As a Board, we do want to convey that transportation safety has been and continues to be a top priority for the district,” he said. “Our transportation department imparts clear expectations on all of our vendors with regard to safety and in recent days has taken steps to remind those vendors of our expectations to ensure their compliance.”

Compliance spot checks have been conducted over the past several weeks, he said, “and these checks, as well as other compliance oversight activities, will remain an important part of our procedures as all of our students return to school in September.”

The District is also reviewing its contracts with its bus vendors, “to learn what options are available when and if it is necessary to act,” he said. Montauk has the most contracts for regular transportation of students to and from school, said Board business administrator Brian Bonanno.

“In addition, as we move forward, especially given the increase in the number of vendors needed to cover bus routes for the district, the Board is working to further tighten bid specifications when bidding out supplemental and additional bus routes that sometimes results in the hiring of new companies,” Ravally said.

“Finally, as a Board we pledge we will continue to seek ways to further compliance with policies, rules and regulations as they pertain to safely transporting students,” he said. “We will continue to work with pour vendors to make sure safety remains a top priority.”

Bonanno said that the District’s specializations for transportation vendor contracts “talk about not wearing ear buds, not using cell phones.”

“Their full attention should be on the students,” he said.

Montauk’s contract for the 2023-24 school year has already been renewed, Bonanno said.

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