The Horrifying Neglect Of Kids With Special Needs On School Buses: This Has Got To Stop
One morning, a 19-year-old with Down syndrome boards a bus for her first day of school. She is nonverbal, particularly so since her mother died of breast cancer a few months ago.
Her grandmother, who puts her on the bus, trusts that the driver will safely transport this teen to school. Only this is what happens: The girl never ends up making it off the bus. Five hours later, the grandmother gets a call from the school asking why her granddaughter did not show up. The premises are searched. The bus driver, now on his afternoon route, is called.
The girl, it turns out, is still on the bus, sleeping and unharmed. The driver had left the bus parked in a terminal for hours between shifts, with her inside, undetected.
If this sounds like some made-for-TV movie, sadly, it is not. It happened in Crestwood, Illinois last week. The driver has been fired, and the Alpha School Bus Company is under investigation.
Even more shocking: This is the fourth incident this summer of a student with special needs getting left on a bus.
The same thing happened on August 10 to a six-year-old boy with Down syndrome in Phoenix, Arizona. The high that day was 105 degrees; the inside of the van would have been even hotter. The child was in the van for at least an hour, possibly longer. He was unable to unlock his seat belt.
The same thing happened on July 29 to to a 6-year-old child with autism in Dania Beach, Florida. The bus’s surveillance camera shows the driver and aide getting off the bus without checking the seats to see if any children were still there.
The same thing happened on July 20 to a four-year-old boy with special needs in Jersey City, New Jersey who was headed to a summer program. He was in the bus for four hours before a bus company mechanic discovered him. It was another sweltering hot day.
The same thing happened on May 11 to a three-year-old boy with autism in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was alone on the bus, strapped in, for six hours.
Keep Googling and you’ll also find incidents of this happening during wintertime as well.
The 19-year-old girl and children were OK, although several were dehydrated and needed hospitalization. Drivers and aides were arrested, some charged with neglect.
This is all horrifying—and outrageous. Forget the fact that a lot of these kids are on small buses, which are even easier to check than the large kind. These drivers and aides are entrusted with a tremendous responsibility. As amazing as these kids and teens with special needs may be, they are vulnerable. Some of them cannot speak. Some are in wheelchairs. Some do not have enough cognition to know the name of their school. Some have medical conditions that make them more prone to overheating.
There is no excuse for a driver or aide to neglect the simple task of checking buses to make sure all kids are off. Set aside the fact that these jobs are not well paid; if you take the job, you take the responsibility. Perhaps bus companies need to do a more thorough screening job for hires. And they need to be extra rigorous about making sure employees follow procedures.
Installing video cameras on buses that transport kids with special needs, and having supervisors review them to make sure drivers or aides always sweep the bus to look for left-behind children, could help weed out negligent personnel. Schools can help, too, by having bus monitors also check buses. And they should alert parents as soon as child does not show up at school. That’s why my son’s school does, every single time.
Perhaps the law needs to up the ante, too, charging drivers and aides not just with neglect but with child abuse as well. Because leaving a child in an inferno of a bus is child abuse. For once, I’d like the law to rise to the occasion before a child dies.
I’m going to be putting my son on a bus in a couple of weeks for his first day of school. I know his drivers, and trust them, and for that I feel lucky. It is upsetting to picture these children, alone on a bus, hot, miserable and scared.
Children on buses are the most precious cargo on the road. They should be treated as such.