Sleeping student left alone on bus for 3 hours

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Friday, February 10, 2012

A bus driver has been fired after a first-grader was left alone on a bus in a parking lot for three hours Wednesday.

The child was not injured and apparently slept through the event, Janesville School District and Van Galder Bus officials said.

A bus aide, who works for the district, also faces possible disciplinary action in the incident.

Superintendent Karen Schulte said the Lincoln Elementary School student remained on the bus when the driver finished the route and parked at the Van Galder lot at about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. The driver and aide discovered the student, apparently still sleeping, when they returned for a midday route at 11:30 a.m.

School and company officials could not recall a similar incident. Sonntag said Van Galder has been transporting Janesville students for about 50 years.

The bus is a small yellow school bus with 26 seats, which transports students with disabilities.

The bus was not locked—which is standard procedure—while parked in the lot, said Nancy Sonntag, safety director and school bus manager for Van Galder.

An employee was washing buses near the child's bus but did not notice anything, Sonntag said, which reinforces officials' belief the student was sleeping.

Officials didn't know exactly where on the bus the student slept.

"Van Galder Bus Co. training policy states that drivers need to count the number of students in the seats before they start the bus route and after students exit," according to a district news release. "The Van Galder post-trip inspection protocol states, 'when your route or school activity trip is finished, you should conduct a post-trip inspection of the bus by walking through and around the bus looking for … sleeping students.'"

District rules for bus aides state that aides "must remain vigilant for potential students' well being" and that aides' "first obligation is to the students on the route and any needs that they might have while on the bus."

Sonntag said all drivers received refresher training Wednesday afternoon. The incident itself has raised drivers' awareness, she said.

"I believe that the fact that this happened has really hit home with some of our drivers," Sonntag said, adding that she believes drivers follow the rules.

"So why it happened yesterday, I don't know," she said.

"We are obviously very sorry that anything like this happened, and we're taking any measures we can to make sure it doesn't happen again," Sonntag said.

Sonntag said she believes drivers follow the rules, and many came forward to tell her so. One told her of finding a sleeping student when he performed such a check.

The school was aware the student was absent but had received notice from a parent earlier that the parent's phone would not be working that week, Schulte said. In addition, the school received a voice mail from the parent Wednesday, saying the student had missed the bus. The parent was phoning in a reason for a previous absence, Schulte said, but the message was not clear.

"That (miscommunication) contributes to this, but certainly that student should have been found on the bus," Schulte said.

The district is investigating and following its procedures regarding "appropriate disciplinary measures," Schulte said.

Human Resources Director Steve Sperry will make the final determination about the aide, she said.

"We will review all our procedures … and bring all our bus aides in to just re-look at the training because we certainly don't want to have a student to have to go through this again," Schulte said.

Van Galder's newer buses have a system that requires someone to push a button at the back of the bus before leaving a bus. If that isn't done, alarms sound, Sonntag said. This bus was not so equipped.

Sonntag is considering a procedure other companies use, which requires the driver to go to the rear of the bus and hang a sign that says the bus has been checked.

Officials would not say whether the student is a boy or a girl or what kind of disability the student has. They cited confidentiality concerns. Laws forbid schools from publicly identifying a student as receiving special-education services.

Last updated: 7:45 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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