Bainbridge School District reviewing procedures after special needs student left on bus

The school district is re-evaluating several of its procedures after a 4-year-old special needs child was unknowingly left on a school bus for more than an hour and a half on Feb. 3.

The bus driver, a 14-year district employee, resigned Thursday. The school board approved the resignation at that evening's meeting, which took place after the Review's press deadline.

“I think it’s really important as a school district that when we’ve erred, that we acknowledge that we’ve erred,” Supt. Faith Chapel said. “We’re going to move forward and make sure that the student is cared for and that the family is cared for, and that we have a support system and procedures in place.”

Many of the district’s safeguards, such as attendance procedures, failed that day.

“What we’re going to do is have a much more consistent practice and use the same procedures for preschool that we’ve had for every other grade level,” Chapel said. “When a student is absent, call the parent, and call transportation.”

The girl, who is a student in Ordway’s afternoon preschool, boarded the bus at approximately 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 3.

When the bus arrived at Ordway at 11:45 a.m., the other students exited the bus but the student remained in her car seat.

The driver did not see the child, district spokeswoman Pam Keyes said.

According to Mark Rowe, the child’s father, the child has verbal apraxia, and is unable to communicate when she becomes anxious.

The driver drove to the bus barn, ate lunch, then exited the vehicle.

Ninety minutes later, the driver returned to the bus and drove back to Ordway, where the child was found still sitting in the bus.

“They didn’t find her until they drove back to the school and parked and realized that she was still there,” Rowe said.

The child was then moved to another bus and returned home.

The family was not notified that the girl was absent or about the incident until after she came home, Rowe said.

The driver was placed on paid administrative leave following the incident.

“In the emotional aftermath of something like this happening, I think people want to see somebody react and react immediately,” Chapel said. “The reality of it is that school district policies and procedures mirror the legal and judicial processes that are established in our country.”

The family was not asked to participate in the hearing, because it is a private personnel matter, Rowe said.

The child returned to school Tuesday, but did not take the bus to Ordway. She rode the bus home in the afternoon accompanied by a teacher, Rowe said.

The child, who was visibly upset when she returned home Feb. 3, will also attend district-facilitated sessions with a child psychologist.

“It’s kind of one of those things where we’ll see how it works,” Rowe said. “Our only concern is if it’s going to work. They are going to facilitate one of her speech teachers to be there as well.”

The district has also considered bus technology that would help prevent future occurrences.

“That’s one of the discussion pieces we’re having,” Chapel said. “Are there some things that we can implement that will be helpful? This district has not had an incident like this in many decades.”

The Rowe family still wonders if the situation could have been prevented.

“Was there any warnings before that happened?” Rowe said. “Was there a follow-through there with an internal process? That’s where you start to think throughout the whole system, how are bus drivers judged and if there is a lax, are there any consequence other than a slap on the wrist?”

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