IM this article to a friend!

December 6, 2002

Dodge calls student 'a great camper'

From: Birmingham News - 6 Dec 2002

Child alone for hours, says Superintendent Dodge; bus driver placed on paid suspension

Staff Reporter

A 4-year-old deaf student who attends Southwest Regional School for the Deaf and Blind was left alone on a school bus for several hours Thursday morning, Mobile County superintendent Harold Dodge said.

The child, whom Dodge described as "multi-handicapped," was found by a manager at the system's Irvington bus barn around 11 a.m., sitting in the driver's seat of the parked bus.

The windshield wipers were pumping, and the headlights were shining, Dodge said, and the child was seated inside.

"He wasn't distraught or screaming or whatever," Dodge said. "He was a great camper."

The child first boarded the bus Thursday around 7:15 a.m. at his regular stop in the Bayou La Batre area, Dodge said. But when the bus reached the Southwest Regional School for the Deaf and Blind in west Mobile, sometime before 8:30 a.m., the boy did not get off with the other students.

"We just assumed he was absent," said Principal Mary Lou Casey, who is herself the mother of a deaf child. "I'm totally devastated. There's no excuse for what happened."

After fleet manager Bob Brunson found the child at the Padgett Switch Road bus barn, he brought the boy back to the school, where Casey and a school nurse greeted him, according to Dodge and school spokesman Stephen Pryor.

School officials found an almost-empty tube of Orajel, an oral pain reliever, in the 4-year-old's backpack and took him to Springhill Medical Center to make sure he wasn't injured during his 2-hour ordeal, Dodge said.

The Alabama State Department of Transportation requires school bus drivers to inspect their buses for students at the end of each trip, according to the state's bus driver handbook.

In Mobile County, Dodge said, that inspection means the driver must remove a dangling card from the front of the bus, walk to the back of the bus and stick the card in the back window to show that the inspection has been completed.

Apparently, that was not done Thursday on that particular bus. The card was never removed, Dodge said.

A bus driver, identified by Human Resources Assistant Superintendent Paul Tate as Wanda Friday, was placed on paid suspension following the incident, Dodge said.

The bus driver will be given a hearing today at 9:30 a.m., after which Dodge said he will be prepared to make a recommendation to the school board concerning the future of her employment.

Friday has worked with the system since 1994, according to Tate. No one by her name could be reached by the Mobile Register for comment on Thursday.

Also working on the bus at the time of the incident was a substitute bus aide, whom school officials identified as Elizabeth Moore. The aide could not be reached Thursday, either.

Because substitutes are not employees of the school system, the only disciplinary action that could be taken was to remove her name from the pool of potential substitutes, Tate said.

Mother and son were successfully reunited late Thursday afternoon, and concerned school officials said they were looking to Brunson -- the man who found the boy -- as a hero in the midst of an upsetting situation.

© 2002 All Rights Reserved.