Education

Wichita bus carrying fifth-graders crashes on Kansas Turnpike

A school bus carrying Wichita elementary school students crashed on the Kansas Turnpike south of Emporia on Wednesday morning, a district official confirmed.

Fifth-graders at Park Elementary School in Wichita were on a field trip to the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka when the bus skidded off the road at about 9:30 a.m. The bus carried 36 students, two teachers and a bus driver.

Seventeen people — 16 students and one teacher — were injured in the crash. They were taken to Newman Hospital in Emporia for medical attention, a Kansas Highway Patrol supervisor said.

The injuries were not life threatening, Kansas Highway Patrol Cpt. John Lehnherr said.

The students who weren’t injured were taken to a high school in Emporia to wait for a ride back to Wichita, Lehnherr said.

It’s unclear what caused the crash. The area, about 14 miles south of Emporia, was receiving moderate snow at the time.

The crash is being investigated by the Kansas Highway Patrol. It’s unknown whether it was caused by inclement weather, speed or equipment failure, Lehnherr said.

“We’ll work to determine that. But, as of now, it’s just way too early,” Lehnherr said Wednesday afternoon.

Wichita Public Schools spokesperson Susan Arensman said the students’ parents were being notified Wednesday morning. The school district sent another school bus to pick up the students, and some parents opted to drive to Emporia to pick up their children, she said.

Shortly after the crash, Wichita residents took to social media questioning the school district’s decision not to cancel the field trip.

“Can you imagine having to go get your child from the hospital in another town,” wrote Shala Perez on Facebook. “This was a bad call. They should have rescheduled. Absolutely unacceptable!”

The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory on Tuesday afternoon.

Arensman said Wichita Public Schools decided to allow out-of-town field trips Wednesday based on weather reports.

“It’s a discretionary thing,” Arensman said. “Based on the information we had about road conditions, we allowed our out-of-town field trips.”

“We were just going by the information that we were provided at the time,” she said.

Wichita and Emporia each received more than 2 inches of snow on Wednesday.

The Lyon County Sheriff’s Office shared a photo on Facebook of the bus accident.

Chance Swaim won a George Polk Award for political reporting. He has been a news reporter for The Wichita Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at 316-269-6752 and cswaim@wichitaeagle.com.
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