Saturday, October 17, 2009

DCMM: Trust and the School Bus

Last week, an Alexandria school put a kindergartener on a bus after school and sent him home. Unfortunately, the kid was supposed to stay at school in an after-hours program and the bus dropped him off in the wrong place—more than a mile from his home.

He wandered the streets crying until a couple of older kids found him and took him to their apartment manager. The apartment manager then called the school, which gave him the mom's phone number. The apartment manager then called the mom and took care of the kid until she could come get him.

Thank God this screw up of epic proportions ended without the worst happening. If you're a parent, your mind is already swirling with all of the terrible things that could have happened to a lone, terrified kindergartner left alone far from home.

When I heard this story on NPR the other day, my mind reeled in anger and what ifs. Yes, I absolutely commend the school systems on getting the right kids on the right buses 99.999999999% of the time, but frankly, if you're a school, you should get it right 100% of the time.

The thing about sending your child off to school is that you also send your trust. You trust that the school will take care of your child and keep him safe. You trust that they will not leave him fearful, scared, and with emotional scars. You trust. You have to.

Unfortunately, I know from personal experience that this is not one isolated incident. This kind of thing happens all the time.

When one of my oldest son's friends started kindergarten, he decided at recess sometime in the first week that he was done. So he left. He walked home. Which, thankfully, was very close. Also thankfully, his mom was home and returned him to the school—where the staff was unaware that he had left.

Another of my son's friends had an experience scarily similar to the one of the Alexandria child referenced above. She was supposed to stay for an after-school science class, but was instead sent home on the bus. The bus did drop this kindergartener off at the right stop, but her mom was not home. This young girl stood on the corner and cried until a woman—a stranger—who runs a neighborhood home daycare center saw her and brought her inside.

This year, the very same thing happened to a friend of a friend at my school. Her son, also a kindergartner, was sent home when he was supposed to stay at an after-hours program. In this case, the kid's across-the-street neighbor, who had provided child care for him in the past, was home and picking up her own child from the bus stop, so she collected the stray child as well.

Are you sensing a trend? These were all kindergartners, kids who didn't know to say no to their teacher when she sent them off to the wrong place. They were also all very young children, very much at risk of getting lost, getting stolen, or simply getting hit by a car while wandering unattended.

I too have had this experience. On my middle (autistic) son's very first day of special education preschool a couple of years ago, his bus took more than two hours to bring him home. They couldn't find our house. And my son couldn't tell them where he lived or even what his name was. The bus driver actually stopped at the wrong house on another street, walked my child up to the door and tried to deliver him into the wrong house.

If you're counting, that's four kids that I know personally who have been misdelivered on their way home from school. That shouldn't be. So you know, I let my kids ride home on the bus. I've lost my child, and my school never has. I do trust my school. I know that they try their very hardest, and I am aware that the very last thing they ever want to do is lose a child or scare one. I know that. I know that even the best teachers, bus drivers, and administrators make mistakes.


I personally believe that no young child should be let off of a school bus unless there is an adult or responsible party there to pick her up. I've seen my son's bus driver not let a third grader off of the bus because his older brother, who was usually there, was late. She took him back to the school. And the first time I sent my husband to pick up my autistic son from his kindergarten bus driver, she didn't recognize him and demanded ID prior to letting him take my child.

That is what I am talking about.

I know that no system is perfect. But when you are trusting someone with your child, that system damn well should be.

Original DC Metro Moms Blog post.

Jean blogs about her personal experiences at Stimeyland and runs an autism information and event listing website at AutMont.

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