Monday, June 17, 2013

School buses are supposed to be safe, aren't they?

Not if a child falls asleep and gets left on the bus because the driver and the bus monitor apparently had selective vision problems and couldn't see him sitting there. This happened to cousin E. last week. Cousin H. first got word when she got a call from her carpool family saying her son -- who, like kiddo, has ADHD -- hadn't been on the bus. The best part is that the monitor tried to tell E. it was his fault. For, uh, falling asleep I guess. Because no kid ever falls asleep on a moving vehicle. Never happens.

The monitor was disciplined but for some unbelievable reason not fired. And cousin H. says the school is considering the matter closed. Nothing to see here, move along?

Except no. Because this is not what you would call an "isolated incident." Would you like to know how often special needs kids are abandoned on their buses? All. The. Time.

On April 23, an 11-year-old boy with autism was left on his bus in Oregon for eight hours. The driver and the paraprofessional who left him there were fired, and the district instituted new guidelines on transporting special needs kids, including student checklists for the employees to follow, which is such a smart idea it's a wonder no one thought of it earlier. No, really. Why didn't anyone think of it earlier?  

On April 22, a 4-year-old boy with speech and other issues was left by himself for 11 minutes on his school bus in Arizona. He fell asleep and, according to surveillance video, was not noticed by either the driver or the aide. But here's the best part, according to the ABC affiliate that got hold of the video: He woke up a few minutes into it, confused, and:

After several more minutes, a third school worker can be seen entering the bus, spotting [the boy], but not getting the boy any help. Instead, the employee walked to the back of the bus and continued working.

Oh, clearly the small child just felt like hanging out on the bus all by himself and missing school. No, don't trouble yourself, Bus Employee. The small child all by himself is clearly not your problem even though you WORK FOR THE SCHOOL DISTRICT.

 On March 11, an 8-year-old boy with a genetic disorder was left on his bus in the company lot for five hours in Jersey City (oh, way to represent, Jersey). He fell asleep, he woke up by himself, he hid because he was scared, and the bus driver and aide didn't realize their giant oopsie until they came back for their afternoon run. They were fired and charged with endangering the welfare of a child and endangering the welfare of a disabled person.

On March 19, an 11-year-old boy with autism fell asleep on his bus in Manhattan and the driver and aide -- oh, oops! -- forgot to check the bus before leaving it, police said. He was on the bus for more than two hours, in the cold. When he was finally discovered, his blood pressure was so low the school called 911. Driver and aide were arrested, charged with failing to exercise control of a minor, and suspended from their jobs.

On Feb. 5, a 6-year-old boy with epilepsy and a sensory disorder was left on his bus in North Carolina for an hour-plus while his mother waited at the bus stop, not knowing where he was. He suffered a seizure a few days later, which his mother thought might have been from the stress of the incident. No word on what happened to the driver, who was apparently a substitute.

On Jan. 14, not only did the driver leave a 4-year-old with special needs on the bus in Michigan, but the boy then got off the bus and started to wander around the neighborhood. Neighbors saw him and called the police. The driver, who should be forever and ever grateful that the boy did not get hit by a car, was suspended; the boy's parents opted to start driving him to school themselves.

On Nov. 27, 2012, a 4-year-old boy with autism was left on his school bus in Washington, D.C., for about five hours until the driver and aide got back on the bus for their afternoon shift and realized they still had an undelivered passenger. Seems the aide was sitting up front instead of in the back, where she belonged. Also, she and the driver had disabled the buzzer alert that would've forced them to walk to the back of the bus to turn it off, thus also forcing them to check for children. Isn't that amazing? They had a buzzer to remind them to do their jobs and it still didn't work. Both were fired, charges were supposedly in the works but I don't see an update on that.

 On April 16, 2012, a 3-year-old girl with special needs in New York state was left strapped in her car seat for more than two hours and required hospital treatment for mild dehydration. The driver and the aide were charged with endangering the welfare of a child and were fired.

In December 2011, a 3-year-old girl with special needs was left on her bus in Florida for about five hours, until the driver came back for the afternoon shift and found her. The aide was charged with child neglect.

In November 2009, a 3-year-old boy with developmental and speech delays and asthma was left strapped into his car seat on the bus for six hours in Florida. With, obviously, no asthma medication. The temperature inside the bus was reported at 80 degrees. The driver and monitor were charged with child neglect and quit their jobs.

Lest you think this is a peculiarly American form of incompetence, on June 5, a 5-year-old boy with autism was left on his bus in Ireland. It's unclear how long he was by himself, and an investigation was reportedly under way. And on May 2, a 5-year-old boy with autism fell asleep on the way to his school in the U.K. and was left on the bus for two hours. The driver was reprimanded, the assistant was fired, the school said, hey, the kid's been sick lately, who knew he'd actually show up that day? *ahem* I may be paraphrasing.

Would you like to know how long this extensive research took me to do? About .5 seconds on Google. That's how often this happens.

It boggles the mind. How, oh how do you park your bus for the morning and not notice that you're not the only person on it? Did you somehow think you were transporting sacks of potatoes and not children? Would you rather kick back with a magazine and let the kids drive instead?

If only I had a school bus driver to ask about this phenomenon. But wait, I do! Let's call her Mom.

My mother drove a school bus for our district for about three years. She is equally appalled by what happened to cousin E. (and all the other kids). When she was a driver, she says, she always walked up and down the aisle and checked all the seats to make sure nothing and no one had been left behind. That was district policy. And aides, she said, were supposed to sit in the back of the bus specifically to help check on things at that end. Break the rules, lose your job, end of story.

She thinks privatization is a factor here; districts outsourcing their transportation needs to an outside company that doesn't know the kids or the neighborhood and is most interested in getting the job done and going home. She left her job shortly after the district outsourced, and, she says, the sense of family was gone. Drivers weren't allowed to talk on the radios anymore unless it was an emergency. Drivers weren't sent out for periodic refresher training anymore. The knitting club disappeared. That sort of thing.

Is that the reason? Could be. Drivers who don't know the kids they're transporting probably also don't know how to handle special needs kids, and training costs money, right? (I would also like to blame basic incompetence.)

I really, really don't want this to happen to kiddo. And I even more don't want another child left on a bus long enough that their health is in danger. Because at some point that will end in tragedy.

Is it really so hard to just get up and walk down the aisle and make sure all the kids got off the bus? Really?

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