Incidents Raise Concern For Our School Children – Is Your Child At Risk?

When we get our children on the school bus in the morning, we expect them to arrive safely at school and then home to us at the end of the day.

We stay with them at the bus stop and are waiting when they get back so they will not be left unsupervised for a moment.  We trust our school bus drivers to keep track of each and every child aboard and ensure their safety.

But for some parents in the news recently, this did not occur.  Their children were either reported absent in the morning or did not get off the bus in the afternoon.  The reason?  They fell asleep on board and the driver failed to check the bus.

Several cases of children being left on school buses have been in the news since the start of the current school year in September.  Parents are furious – and rightly so – when the answer to solving this problem is so simple:  drivers are supposed to check their buses after each trip.

In just the last few months, this frightening situation has occurred in many districts across the nation.

CBS – Boston, Massachusetts:

A five-year-old with special needs was forgotten on a school bus for most of the school day. Wednesday night, the state was investigating how it happened.  The child was on the bus to McAvinnue Elementary on Monday, when temperatures climbed into the 80’s. He was on that bus until he was discovered at one in the afternoon when the driver got back on.

Fox 8Cleveland, Ohio reported two incidents in as many months:

Parents of a four-year-old student left stranded on a school bus for hours are furious and demanding answers as to why they were never notified their son was missing.  The Richmond Heights Local Schools pre-kindergartner, Xavier Smith, boarded the bus around 8 a.m.  His parents say he was not discovered until minutes before 1 p.m. Monday.

 A Cleveland dad is furious after he says his six-year-old son with special needs was left alone on a hot bus for more than four hours. “After an hour and they couldn’t tell me what was going on I started to get extremely worried,” said Trevelle Hargrove. “I couldn’t understand why no one could tell me where my son was.” The child woke up and continued to honk the bus horn until someone came to help him.

 ABC 13 – Danville, Virginia

A mother says two children were trapped on a Danville school bus after they did not get off the bus at school. The driver didn’t notice and parked the bus at the city’s bus lot. She says it was more than an hour before they were found.  Mother Brittney Turner was at home when she got an automated call that her child was not at school.

And the worst case?  An autistic teenager in Whittier, California died from heat exhaustion after being left on a bus for more than nine hours in sweltering late-summer temperatures.

School Bus Fleet, a monthly informative magazine for school bus drivers even included a story on this growing problem in its October issue, along with “10 Tips to Bolster Bus Checks for Sleepers.”

All of these cases, and others like them, were the result of a child falling asleep on the bus.  And unless we have the flexibility to drive our children to school ourselves, we must put the safety of our children in the hands of someone we barely know.

So what is going on, and how can we protect our children?  The answer should be simple:  bus drivers are trained and required to check every seat on the bus at the conclusion of each trip they make.  But, unfortunately, they don’t always do this.

There is a national shortage of school bus drivers – the pay is low and the hours can be unpredictable.  Now, many school districts are enlisting new safety protocols in the training of school bus drivers to stop these frightening occurrences.  But will it solve the problem?

School Bus Fleet reported:

If you monitor the nation’s media outlets for school bus news, as we do here at SBF, you’ll occasionally see stories about students being left unattended on school buses.

Over the years, we’ve reported on many incidents of students being left stranded on school buses. In some cases, children are left alone on a bus for multiple hours. These incidents are traumatic for the child and his or her parents, but they typically haven’t resulted in serious physical harm to the child.

There are various measures that school bus operations can implement to ensure that students aren’t left behind on their buses, but none of these measures is foolproof. The key is to implement multiple measures — to build in redundancy.

New protocols include requiring drivers to do two checks per run – one after the last stop of the day and then once again when the driver returns the bus to the yard.  Other ideas under development are electronic alarms that remind drivers to check the bus when it is stopped, or a sign that is posted in the back of the bus that the driver has to walk back and flip over to “Bus Empty,” apparently ensuring a walk-through.

Perhaps the best idea is one that is not often implemented – having bus aides on every single bus.  Some districts who have experienced the frightening instance of a child left behind have implemented the two-staff rule.  But others are hesitant as it affects the bottom line:  more staff equals more money doled out for staff paychecks.

What can we do as parents?  Aside from driving our children or creating carpools with other moms, it is important to talk to your school administration and bus driver at the beginning of the year, especially if your child has special needs or a medical issue that requires more supervision.

Talk to younger riders about safety rules, like what they should do if they are left behind on the bus.  The child in one of these stories who honked the bus horn for help is a good example.  Make sure you are at the bus stop with younger children so that if they don’t get off the bus in the afternoon, you are aware of it right away.

Most of the drivers involved in these stories were terminated, but it doesn’t solve the problem of how to force our bus drivers to perform their safety checks when they are often alone on the school bus.

What do you think of these frightening stories?  Are you aware of any bus safety protocols in place in your child’s school district to prevent this from happening to you?  Leave us your thoughts in the comments section.

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