After a tragedy of any kind, whether a death as sharply individual as 2-year-old Kole Ford's on Tuesday or the massive carnage of 9-11, our first and overwhelming compulsion is to grieve.
And then begin looking for someone to blame.
Grieve, yes. A victim of his own happy exuberance, little Kole was run over by the Columbia County school bus that he enthusiastically greeted when his older brothers returned to their Grovetown home from Brookwood Elementary School.
No parent can hear the news without a shudder of horror. Few things are more disheartening and chilling than the sudden, unexpected death of a child.
Sadly, then, the blame-game begins. Outsiders wonder if the bus driver was inattentive, or if the school system allowed an unsafe route, or if the child lacked parental supervision. Inconsolable families look for someone to hold responsible, or blame the media for publicizing their grief - even when that publicity brings an outpouring of community support.
As a way of displacing frustration at an event that can't be undone, blame is useless and pointless. As a method of determining responsibility and imposing accountability, however, it is unavoidable. And when a 2-year-old child dies under the wheels of a school bus, or any vehicle, accountability is vital in ensuring such a tragedy is less likely to happen again.
While the Columbia County Sheriff's Office and the Board of Education continue to investigate the accident, there are several important questions that must be answered:
-- Should bus drivers be allowed to move a bus stop? Remember: Back in August, the school board made a big deal out of "officially designating" bus stops. The action then became part of a legal challenge to the state's tough new sex-offender law that prohibits registered offenders from living near "officially designated" stops.
In this particular case, the "official" stop was a third of a mile away. The bus driver made the right wise decision to drive down a private dirt road to drop off Kole's young siblings closer to their home. But school system policy is vague on how such stops are made "official."
-- Did Kole, as some witnesses report, routinely approach the bus when it stopped to let off his brothers? If so, did the driver ever make it clear to his family that a moving school bus can be dangerous?
-- Are proposed additional safety features such as bus monitors and satellite tracking of school buses needed, as some school officials and parents contend?
-- Would we even be asking such questions if Kole had been killed by a delivery truck or some other private vehicle? Or is special scrutiny reserved only for Columbia County school buses that already have safely delivered the equivalent of more than 3 million children this year alone?
Above all, it's essential to remember that while these questions are important, none of the answers will restore Kole to life. But if they could help save another child, another grieving family and another devastated driver, there should be no end to the asking.
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