Wake County Schools

Two drivers off the road after children left on Wake buses

Posted February 6, 2013
Updated February 7, 2013

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— Two Wake County school bus drivers were taken off driving duty Wednesday after the school system received reports about two children with special needs being left on their buses after the drivers finished their routes.

The first case happened last week when an autistic kindergarten student at A.B. Combs Elementary School fell asleep on his bus and the driver did not notice until she was in the middle of a second route.

On Tuesday, a 6-year-old with epilepsy and a sensory processing disorder who attends Salem Elementary School in Apex never got off the bus at his stop in front of his house.

In each case, it took two hours for the boys' parents to be reunited with them.

Michael Charbonneau, a spokesman for the Wake County Public School System, said Wednesday that the school district's policy requires bus drivers to check their buses for children at the end of a route. Those who don't follow the policy, he said, "are held accountable" and "face serious consequences."

"We take any kind of complaint very seriously," he said. "We're going to investigate it fully. The drivers are going to be off the road until it's resolved."

In the first case, Charbonneau said, the driver called her team leader when she noticed the sleeping child, but the team leader, who was also driving a route because of staff shortages, did not answer his phone, per school policy.

School bus Boys, 6, left on Wake school buses

Tuesday's case is still under investigation.

Meghann Baynon's son, J.D., was on the bus Tuesday.

She said she waited for him at the bus stop for about 30 minutes before calling her district's transportation office. When they couldn't help her, she said, she called Apex police, fearing something might have happened to her son.

The driver, Baynon said, eventually took him home, apologized and said she was a substitute unfamiliar with the route and was relying on the children to help her. Baynon said the driver told them that she simply did not see the boy, who was sitting in the middle of the bus.

"'I'm sorry' doesn't fix the issue," J.D.'s father, John Baynon, said. "That doesn't fix the problems that led up to that. Something went wrong along the way to allow this to happen."

John Baynon said his concerns go beyond the driver of his son's bus.

Lisa Miller-Cochran and Sam Cochran Parents say school system's communication lacking

He's also concerned about the process in which substitute drivers learn routes and the process of checking the bus for children at the end of the route. He also wants better communication between parents and the school system when such cases occur.

Communication was also an issue in last week's case when Stacey Cochran called the school system's transportation office when his 6-year-old son, Sam, who has autism, didn't get off his bus.

Cochran said he got no answer and when he tried to call another number, he got a message informing him that his call would be returned the next business day.

"I was panic-stricken" Sam's mother, Susan Miller-Cochran said. "We couldn't get in touch with anyone."

Ultimately, she drove her son's bus route, while her husband waited at the stop, and found another bus driver who tried to help her.

It was two hours after he his scheduled 3:35 p.m. bus stop that they were reunited. By that time, Sam was scared, she said, and had soiled his pants.

"Someone should have notified us when Sam was discovered on the bus," Miller-Cochran wrote in an email to the school system's transportation department. "And certainly Wake County transportation should have been able to figure out where his bus was. It took 1½ hours to receive a response from the driver of the bus. During that time, nobody could give me an answer other than, 'The bus must be out on its route since the driver isn't answering the phone.'"

Generally speaking, Charbonneau said that there are policies and procedures in place that address some of the Baynons' and Cochrans' concerns.

Substitute drivers receive the same training as full-time drivers and also receive a printed route description when they go on an unfamiliar route.

There are also mechanisms in place to ensure that drivers check for children at the end routes. On newer models, there is a button at the back of the bus that drivers must push to deactivate a buzzer. In older buses, drivers must hang a card in the back window to show that they have checked for children.

Charbonneau also said that the school board's vote Tuesday on a plan to reorganize the transportation system should alleviate some of the staff shortages.

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  • sarahplacz1 Feb 7, 2013

    @Rachel....No one said they want to crush the driver. She does NOT want the driver fired. She wants the system to be fixed so this does not happen. She understands that the bus driver was in a less than ideal situation, but that does not change the fact that the driver did not follow protocol.

    Further more, NO elementary aged child should have the responsibility of telling a bus driver how to get somewhere. The ignorance and lack of compassion for all involved (including the bus driver, who I'm sure feels terrible), that I have seen here makes me truly sad. I am disgusted that my friend, who just experienced one of the most terrifying hours of her life, has to read so many ignorant comments.

  • BlahBlahBlahBlahBlah Feb 7, 2013

    no books..no money..no neighborhood schools..
    lots of buses...lots of expenses...lots of disgruntled parents..

  • BlahBlahBlahBlahBlah Feb 7, 2013

    Take your kids to school..

  • Wendellcatlover Feb 7, 2013

    "@wendellcatllover did the driver get punished? Or just a warning or something" romneycare

    To the best of my memory (it's been several years), the driver received a warning in her file, but my child didn't ride that bus again the rest of the school year.

  • Southern Girl Feb 7, 2013

    Fireguy, about a year ago, I witnessed the very same thing. I got the bus number and tried and tried to report it, but no call back from anyone, although I was told someone would call. This happened at the corner of Falls of the Neuse and Lynn Road, which is a very busy intersection. Wonder why they don't care enough to call back. It should not be this way.

  • healls Feb 7, 2013

    Maybe if kids went to schools in their own neighborhood, where they could either walk, or easily be dropped off by a parent, we wouldn't need any more buses. I had a school literally across the street from my old neighborhood, but my kids couldn't go there, because they were "too full" from busing in kids from other areas. What is wrong with this picture??

    The WCPSS transportation system is a joke! They NEVER answer the phone. You can leave a voicemail, but what good does that do when your child or their bus doesn't show up when they're supposed to and you need to find out what's going on? It's ridiculous.

  • Southern Girl Feb 7, 2013

    Rachel, leaving a child on a bus is much, much more than a small error, and it should not happen or be tolerated. Those drivers should be fired, no pay, immediately, in my opinion. Parents put their children on those buses and expect them to be safe.

  • IMPEACHOBAMA!!! Feb 7, 2013

    I drove a bus for Wake Co. and we were given training to avoid this. If the bus drivers do their jobs properly this will not happen. They get in a hurry, don't do a bus check after every trip, which is what we were trained to do. There is NO EXCUSE EVER to leave a child on a bus...NONE!!

  • fireguy Feb 7, 2013

    I witnessed a bus driver from broughton High School (I know because a secretary told me) Driving a bus full of kids down the road texting on her phone and swerving in the lane. As we came to a stop light i took a picture of her as she was still in her phone. This happened at 9am and i called that entire day and the next day trying to speak with someone in management to handle this problem. I was promised calls back from 7 different people including the superintendent and did not get a call from anyone. Every secretary i talked to was aware of why i was calling and how serious it was. My kids ride wake county school buses and this is unacceptable.

  • Sweetgrl3 Feb 7, 2013

    Plus have you seen how these private company vehicles the WCPSS uses drives? I have had Associated Transportation, Reese Transportation, Drew Transportation to cut me off, fly past me in a school zone, switching lanes constantly, riding bumpers of other drivers. My kids will NEVER ride in their vehicles. This happens daily on New Bern Avenue all the way through downtown Raleigh. Who is monitoring them?

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