County schools to pay $20k to reimburse families for items lost in bus fire

Albemarle County Public Schools will pay nearly $20,000 to reimburse 23 Monticello High School students, three coaches and a bus driver for personal items lost in a Jan. 13 school bus fire on Interstate 64.

The county School Board approved the action on a 7-0 vote Thursday night as part of the board’s larger consent agenda.

The lost items, which totaled $19,688, included computers, clothes, cellphones, Fitbits, cash and gift cards, division officials said.

The school division’s insurance policy covered school division property that was destroyed, including the bus, said county schools spokesman Phil Giaramita, but the policy does not cover lost personal items.

Covering such items would not be possible because the division does not have an “insurable interest” in student property.

“[Coverage] is not an option on our insurance coverage because you have to have an insurable interest in the items for which you are seeking coverage,” Giaramita said. “We would not be able to demonstrate an insurable interest of the school division in a student’s personal property.”

Instead, the division carries a certificate of self-insurance for items lost, and funds to cover those items will come from division reserves, Giaramita said.

State law requires that school divisions either carry a $50,000-minimum insurance policy against damage or carry a certificate of self-insurance.

Rex Linville, whose son lost much of his swimming gear, an iPhone, a graphing calculator and two backpacks in the fire, said his son was woken up by a teammate and told to evacuate the bus immediately.

“He stumbled off the bus, leaving everything behind, and that included his iPhone, his backpacks and his headphones,” Linville said. “When we totaled it all up, it was a pretty substantial cost.”

By reimbursing families, Linville said, he thinks the division put a priority on getting students to safety.

“The division did the right thing … the reason everyone got off the bus safely is that they left their stuff behind,” he said. “If they hadn’t, the fire might have had a much different result.”