School district helping students, staff cope in aftermath of student's death

Second-grader Haji Mohamed, 8, died yesterday

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) - In the aftermath of an 8-year-old boy's death, Omaha Public Schools officials spent Tuesday visiting the family, and providing counselors to students and staff coping with the loss.

OPS canceled statewide testing planned Tuesday at Springville Elemenatary School following the death of Haji Mohammed, 8, who was hit by a school bus after he was dropped off near 22nd and Sprague streets Monday. OPS said the district would reschedule the testing.

RELATED: Mother of boy hit by bus doesn't blame anyone

OPS administration arranged for grief counselors to be at the school Tuesday morning to provide support to students as well as staff who may have been traumatized by yesterday's death of 8-year-old Haji Mohamed, according to an email response 3 News Now received Tuesday afternoon from OPS Communications Director Monique Farmer. Counselors also rode the bus to school Tuesday morning to offer assistance to students, she said.

Around 10 a.m., Student Transportation of America bus drivers had a vigil; grief counseling services have also been extended to bus drivers, Farmer said. About that same time, "several OPS administrators, including the Superintendent of Schools, visited the family," she said in the email response.

OPS said they are still working with Omaha Police as they continue to investigate the incident, which is also being investigated by STA, who is working with independent third party. 

OPS also provided further details of yesterday's incident including:

  • Approximately 16 students exited the school bus at Haji's stop, near 22nd and Sprague streets.
  • Approximately six students were still on the bus at the time of the incident. 
  • 39 students are officially assigned to this bus. The families of each of these students received personal calls from OPS administration yesterday.

OPS also provided details of STA safety protocols:

  • STA reads a daily safety message over the two (2-way) radio each day—one message in the morning and another message in the afternoons.
  • STA also holds a monthly safety meeting (auditorium setting sometimes and on-the-bus training).
  • All bus drivers take required safety training upon hire.
  • All safety training required by drivers is designed to meet compliance requirements set by the Nebraska Department of Transportation and the Department of Education’s Pupil Transportation requirements.

Per the Nebraska DOE Pupil Transportation Guide, those requirements are:

  • Loading/unloading procedure
  • Check for oncoming traffic
  • Use rear view mirror system to check for oncoming traffic
  • Reduce speed
  • Activate amber warning lights on bus — not less than 300, not more than 600 feet from stop
  • Student shall stand off the traveled portion of roadway waiting for any traffic to pass
  • Allow sufficient area to right of bus to load or unload students
  • After stopping, bus is placed in park/neutral and park brake is applied
  • Check again for traffic
  • Activate red warning lights and extend stop arm
  • Check for safe drop off location, road is clear, traffic has stopped
  • Open door to load/unload students
  • When children have left the bus, they should walk to a distance of approximately 12 feet in front of the bus. Driver signals children when to safely cross roadway.
  • When children are safely across road or on their way home retract stop arm, turn off warning lights, check traffic and proceed.
  • When loading, do not put bus in motion until door is closed and children are seated.
  • All passengers shall remain seated while bus is in motion.
  • Students are not allowed to cross the roadway behind the bus when it is stopped to load or unload.
  • The driver must tell the children to stay at least 12 feet away when crossing in front of the bus.
  • Students who walk along the roadway to and from the bus stop should do so along the left side of the roadway facing traffic.

In addition, OPS officials sent this letter to Springville Elementary families:

Dear Springville Parents and Guardians: 

It is with deep sadness that we inform you about a recent loss to our school community. We were made aware that one of our 2nd grade students, Haji Mohamed died unexpectedly yesterday following a bus accident. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to his family. We shared this news with our students and staff earlier today. 

Many children may be affected by this news. We encourage you to be especially sensitive and prepared to offer support to your child during this time. Death and grief affects everyone differently. Your child may want to talk to you about his or her feelings. Sometimes students exhibit behavior changes, loss of concentration, physical complaints or regression. These are common reactions associated with the grieving process. 

Talking about feelings and listening attentively can help students cope. We have attached a parent grief tip sheet to help you talk with your student. We have also arranged to have counseling support available at the school if students need to speak with someone. 

If you have any concerns, please contact the Springville administrative staff. Thank you for your concern at this difficult time. 

Please keep the family in your thoughts during this difficult time.
 
Sincerely, 

The district also passed along the following tips on how to support grieving students:

  • Funerals and memorial services help us accept death and provide the love and support of families and friends. These services may be more important for children than they are for adults. In an inviting way, ask your child if he or she wants to attend the funeral. Do not force your child to attend the funeral if he or she is adamant about not going.
  • Talk, listen, and nurture your child. Children can have endless questions and need for reassurance. Be patient and understanding when asked the same questions over and over. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Remember that your child will watch your reactions and use your reactions as a model.
  • Try to keep your child’s routine as normal as possible or at least return to the normal routine as soon as events allow.
  • Children need help in expressing their feelings. Encourage your child to draw pictures for the dead person, talk about the dead person, or even write letters.
  • Reading books about death can be helpful, but make sure the book conveys the theme or message you want. Different cultural and religious beliefs may conflict with the message and activities described in some books.
  • Provide your child opportunities to do something in memory of the person who died: light a candle, plant a tree, make a memory scrapbook, or give a gift in memory of the person who died.
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