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September 28. 2012 12:37AM

School bus driver, monitor fired for leaving child behind

MANCHESTER — A school bus driver and monitor were fired after a Manchester School District special needs preschool student was left unattended on a bus used to transport children to a city school, district and bus company officials confirm.

The driver and monitor worked for Special Transportation Services (STS), a company owned by Easter Seals New Hampshire to provide transportation services for 738 special needs students in Manchester.

A student who attends the afternoon preschool session at the Jewett Street Elementary School apparently fell asleep on the bus and was missed by the bus driver and monitor as they left the bus for lunch after bringing a group of students to the Jewett school.

“The child was left for 25 to 30 minutes while the driver had lunch with the vehicle parked at the driver’s household,” said Karen Van Der Beken, senior vice president for development and communications at Easter Seals. “The child slept through the incident.”

The bus driver dropped the monitor off at her home for lunch and then continued to his own home, Van Der Beken said.

When the driver picked up the monitor after lunch, the slumbering child was found. The company dispatcher and school district headquarters were called and the bus driver was told to take the child to the school.

The small school bus brought about a dozen students to the school at 12:30 p.m., the driver arrived home at 12:55, and the child was discovered at about 1:45 p.m., according to Van Der Beken.

Jewett principal Peter Lubelczyk said proper protocols were followed at the school when the incident was discovered.

District procedures call for parents to call the school when their children will not be attending. That list is compared to the list of students not in school, and calls are made to the homes of absent students whose parents did not call.

Students delayed for transportation issues is not unusual, since bus drivers are instructed not to leave a young student who is not met by a parent.

“There are a variety of reasons why buses are late,” he said.

“I’ve been here for four years, and this is the first time anything like this has happened.” Lubelczyk said.

After the incident, the bus driver and monitor were placed on administrative leave. The next day, they were fired.

Easter Seals and its bus subsidiary are taking steps to reduce the possibility of a recurrence, Van Der Beken said.

STS requires bus drivers to conduct a “child check,” which involves walking the bus aisle and looking at and under every seat to make sure there are no children left on board at the end of a run.

Child-check will now be augmented by a child reminder system. A buzzer will be installed in the rear of each bus. When the ignition is switched off, the buzzer will go off and can be reset only by walking to the back of the bus. The system is currently in place on newer buses, but older models will now be retrofitted to include the device.

“As far as corrective action, we will be retraining all of our staff on unloading passengers and confirming that the bus is clear after each run,” Van Der Beken said.

While it was a frightening experience for the parents to learn that their child had been left alone on a school bus and for administrators aware of the potential for harm that existed, the youngster was unaware of the situation.

“He slept through it,” Lubelczyk said. “He was lucky in that he did sleep and was none the worse for wear,”

School District administrators did not return telephone calls requesting comment.

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Bill Smith may be reached at wsmith@unionleader.com.


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