Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Shaking With Fury

I don't even know where to begin. Two of my sons started their school year at preschool today. One in a 2-year-old class, one in a 4-year-old class. My 4-year-old, Jack, also started an afternoon special ed pre-school program run through the Montgomery County school district.

Because his afternoon class lets out at the exact same time as my kindergartener's school, both of them take the bus home. Jack, whose school lets out at 3:05 is supposed to be on a bus scheduled to reach my home at 4:14 p.m. This is a long time on the bus, but I figured that he would enjoy riding the bus, plus it would give him some time to zone out and process his day, plus maybe give him time for a little nap.

Today he could have taken a two and half hour nap.

That's right, my 4-year-old special ed child was on the bus until 5:45 p.m.

Here's how it went down: I was happily, eagerly waiting for the bus at 4:15. No bus. By 4:30 I was wondering where they were, but assumed that there might be some first day of school kinks to work through. It was 4:50 before someone from the transportation office called to see if Jack had made it home, because they'd gotten some calls from other parents, parents who were more in the know and knew to call the transportation department.

I was told that I could call the manager tomorrow after 5 p.m. to talk about it.

But that didn't help me because my kid still wasn't home. My very young, developmentally delayed child still wasn't home.

By 5:10, when he still wasn't home, I called back. Apparently there was a problem with a child in a wheelchair, which is why they were delayed. I found out what the problem was when the bus driver himself called a few minutes later. That kid's mom wasn't home when they got there to drop him off. And the bus driver didn't want to get too far away and have to drive all the way back, so he tried to go back FOUR times.

I sympathize with that kid. But I WAS home. I wanted my kid off the bus. I do believe that they should have taken care of that child. And I feel for that child's parents and understand that maybe sometimes things come up that are out of your control and you can't be where you need to be when you need to be. But that bus driver should have brought my child to me. And taken the other kids to their parents. And then taken the first kid home.

And the driver's explanation was that the kids needed name tags. (Which they do.) Apparently when they tried to ask the kids their names, they didn't all respond. My son was one of those that didn't respond. Which is part of the reason that he is in special ed. And did I mention that he's four years old?

At about 5:30 or so, someone, who I believe might have been the bus depot manager, called to apologize. Which was nice, but my son was still not home, so it didn't mean a lot.

Then the bus driver called again to tell me that he was in front of my house and asked where I was. So I stood in front of my house, with a full view of the empty street and told him he was mistaken. Then I had to argue with him. And the best part was that they had gone to my house number on another street and asked the occupants if he was their child.

And I thank God that they said that they don't have children because if they were bad people—and those people ARE out there—the bus driver would have given my child to them. And my child would probably have assumed that he was supposed to go with them and he would have obediently gone.

At 5:45 I flagged them down as they drove down the street. I was in tears as the bus driver tried to explain it away with words about name tags and non-responsive children.

Jack was on the bus for as long as he was at school.

When your child is on a bus, they are out in the ether. You can't go to rescue them. You can't know that they're okay. You have to trust that competent people are taking care of your child and will bring him or her home safely to you. I don't know what to do now because, for me, that trust has been shattered.

*****

Special thanks go out to my friend S, who extended our afternoon playdate to see me through my mental breakdown while I was waiting.

*****

This post is cross-posted at DC Metro Moms blog.

15 comments:

  1. Holy Crap!! I would have been frantic!! Let's hope this doesn't happen again. My boys ride the bus home but they get out at 3:00 and arrive right in front of my house at 3:05. That's the only thing that keeps me from getting paranoid. You did well!! How did Jack handle it all?? Did he seem worried or anything??

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  2. OMG, I have no idea how you held it together. What are you going to do tomorrow? Can you pick him up instead? I imagine the other parents are just as upset, and something really needs to be done about the way the driver handled it. I agree they might need nametags and such, but to nearly give your son away to some other house?!! WTF??

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  3. It makes it so much worse because Jack may not have responded like another kid would. Makes you worry even more about being outside your care and protective embrace.

    My son got on his first bus wearing a 4 point restraint harness when he was 3. It's hard to let them out of your sight anyway, but a an experience like you had makes it even harder.

    I would venture to guess that what happened on that bus today will not happen again because procedures will be changed. Hopefully that will be the only bad bus ride Jack will ever had, although I suspect it was tougher on you.

    I totally understand why.

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  4. Thank you, guys. Bettejo, I hope you're right that it won't happen again, because we're going to give it another try tomorrow. If it's not, like, 400% better I'll start picking him up early from school so I can get him home in time to get Sam from the bus stop.

    And hopefully, now that the driver knows where I live, he won't try to give Jack away to someone else. Which is absolutely about the most shocking thing I have ever heard.

    I'll be calling the depot manager tomorrow and we'll probably file a formal complaint.

    Jack, in true Jack fashion, took it all in stride. He was hungry when he got off the bus, and he agreed that the ride was a little long. But he told his dad that he liked the ride because it was bouncy, and he said, "I made this face," and then smiled the silliest, cheesiest grin you can even imagine.

    Which, as I just emailed to a friend, almost makes it worse.

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  5. Oh, stimey! I thought my bus day was bad, but you definitely win. I would have been out of my mind frantic and I hope you do file a complaint. That's just completely unbelievable and unacceptable! I know just what you mean about having them out of our protection on those things... especially when I furtively followed Sam's bus this morning all the way to school.

    I'm giving our drivers one more chance tomorrow to get it right and then I'm also calling to complain. (Besides making my sixth mommy sense stand to attention, they actually left with my child screaming in the aide's arms and NOT in his car seat )

    I really hope he has a better day tomorrow and that this is just a really bad bump in a new route.

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  6. A true horror story that could have been a tragedy. I'd let the school principal know, too. When my older son was in kindergarten I was stuck in a huge snowstorm driving from work and got there over an hour late (pre-cellphones) and my little son was waiting in the schoolyard all by himself, no teacher in sight. They had forgotten about him. I let the school know and from then on, if I was late, he had a special little seat next to the school secretary who was immensely kind and watched out for him better than his teacher did.

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  7. Thank goodness you had a friend with you at the time. I can't imagine the feelings you were going through. I agree you should talk with the principal also. Many items need to be put in place so it NEVER happens again!!
    ~C

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  8. Jack arrived home today at 3:55 p.m. With a different bus driver. All is well with the world.

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  9. Oh no! Yep, I would have been furious too! My son rides the bus to daycare because I work. And my daycare is awesome, they take very good TC...thank God.

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  10. Holy crap, what a week we are all having! Our first year, Joey was twenty minutes late one day and I had a conniption fit, calling the office hysterically begging for my child. I was solemnly promised that I would be called if the bus left school late ever again.

    It is the policy here that if the parent isn't home after two minutes, the bus leaves and at the end of the run, returns the child to school. Once I got sick just as the bus appeared, and they took him back to school when I didn't appear at my door; I was totally embarrassed, but he was safe, sound, and just had to be picked up from school. Had I truly not been home, the teacher is expected to look after him until I appear, or 5 pm hits (when they call the police). Personally, I think it a fair and reasonable policy.

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  11. I know how you feel. Last year my oldest went to kindergarten (first time on the bus) we live 3 blocks from the school. Class lets out at 3:20 - he did not get home until 5:45. I was angry and upset and said many not nice thing to people on the phone that kept telling me it is the first day delays. Thankfully this year the bus was only 15 minutes late.

    It is a scary thing and I am glad he is ok.

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  12. That is just absolutely horrible. I have no idea how I would react as a mother.

    I can tell you that as a child (in 7th grade though) I had the same type of experience on a bus. During an afterschool program we had to take buses home... and the bus drivers had no route given to them (that I know of) they just randomly asked us where we lived and put us on buses... then seemed to randomly drive around I wasn't home until after dark. I was a quiet kid and wasn't about to yell out to the driver where I needed to go. Horrible situation. How was your son? I know I was really upset when it happened to me. Hopefully they will get it all figured out.

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  13. Oh my dear word.

    I never in a million years could dream up a story worse than that.

    And Jack gave a cheesy grin. What a guy.

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  14. I am shaking. I can just imagine it. I have an 8 yr old with Autism (developmentally around 3) and here in Australia there are no buses so I have to drive him to school. Now I won't complain. I can imagine your terror, and the fact that they could have just dropped Jack AT THE WRONG HOUSE makes me feel sick with worry. Gotta love Jacks reaction though :) I can just see the face he pulled, LOL, what a gem.

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