The parents of 42 children whose school bus was destroyed by fire during an excursion in Victoria’s east have raised concerns about the way they were notified, with one mum only finding out from a friend on Facebook that evening.
The Guthridge Primary School students were on an excursion to the Buchan Caves, in East Gippsland, about 1pm on Wednesday when a tyre on the bus blew out.
Teachers removed students from the bus on the road between Bruthen and Nowa Nowa, before the bus burst into flames.
Parents have criticised the level of communication provided by the school about incident.
Two of Karen Matthews’ children were on the bus, but she said she found out via a Facebook post.
“I’m pretty shaken up by this. I got a tag from a friend on Facebook, asking me what had happened,” she said. “I had no idea at all, and this was six o’clock in the evening.”
Children never in danger
Guthridge Primary School is defending the way it handled the fire, saying it used an App designed to communicate with parents.
Principal Sue Burnett said the children were never in any danger, and the excursion still went ahead.
At no stage was the bus on fire when the children were on the bus. At no stage were the children, or the adults, at any risk.
Ms Burnett said the school uses an app, which they have informed parents about many times, for communication with parents.
She said they sent messages, via the app, to parents at 1:13pm, 1:23pm, 4:33pm and 5.35pm.
“I believe we followed the procedure that was necessary in those circumstances,” she said.
“If the children’s safety had been at risk in any way, or compromised in any way, then we would have possibly tried to contact parents.”
Parents angry with school response
However parent Ms Matthews said she was still angry with how the school responded.
“I turned up at the school at 4.45pm to pick up my children, as organised by the school,” she said.
“By the loud speaker I was advised by the principal there was a breakdown and the children wouldn’t be returning until 6:30pm.
“I was happily going about my business, and then seeing that [the photo of the bus] my heart just dropped and it turned into an anxiety attack.
“I’m shaken still, very much so.”
Eyewitness says flames ‘pouring out of bus’
The Country Fire Authority said it was lucky no-one was injured after the bus caught fire. It took almost an hour to extinguish the fire because of the intensity of the flames.
Phillip Island resident Meredith Lynch saw the fire as it took hold. She said flames were ‘pouring out of the bus’.
“We could see black smoke billowing from above the trees, at the next corner we saw the bus.
“The first thing we noticed was we saw the children. They were well away from the fire when we got there. The police arrived just after us.
“The children were 80 to 100 metres away from the fire,” Ms Lynch said.