There were multiple procedures in place to prevent a child from getting left behind on the bus. All of them failed.
As WPVI reports, 5-year-old Ibn Polk of Pine Creek, Delaware, fell asleep on the school bus Tuesday morning. When his bus arrived at Linden Hill Elementary, several students warned the driver that there was a sleeping child still on the bus.
Unfortunately, the driver ignored the warnings. Nor did she follow district policy and check the bus for any children left behind. What’s more, the bus was equipped with a detection system that sets off an alarm, requiring the driver to check the bus for students in order to disable it. However, that system appears to have been disabled or was otherwise not working.
All of which explains how Ibn remained asleep on the bus while the driver drove back to the bus yard. There, the young boy spent a cold and lonely seven hours. He didn’t eat anything during that time because bus rules prohibit eating on the bus. Instead, he just waited.
“I was crying for a little bit,” Ibn told WPVI. “I was really scared.”
Meanwhile, Ibn’s parents had no idea he was missing. Ibn’s teacher took attendance late, so his absence was noted after the automated calls went out to parents whose children weren’t in school that day. Ibn’s mother, Ivana, told WPVI:
“I didn’t really know what was going on because I know I dropped my baby off at the bus stop and he was on the bus.”
It wasn’t until 3:10 p.m. that Ivana learned that Ibn hadn’t been in school.
“My baby could have frozen to death,” she told the Delaware News Journal, referencing the fact that temperatures the day before had dropped into the 20s.
Ibn wasn’t discovered until almost 3 p.m. during the driver’s afternoon route. Again, it wasn’t a check of the bus that revealed he was still there. Rather, Ibn coughed, alerting the driver to his presence.
Ibn’s parents want to know how the system could have failed their son so badly — starting with the fact that the driver ignored students who warned her that Ibn was still on the bus. Security footage shows two students telling the driver that Ibn was asleep when the bus arrived at the elementary school. Ibn’s father, Russell, told WPVI:
“When she didn’t do that, that made it seem like she didn’t really care.”
Pati Nash, a spokeswoman for the Red Clay School District, called the mistake “unacceptable.”
“It never should have happened,” she told the News Journal. She explained:
“The driver is required to check the bus prior to leaving that school. […] Should have checked the bus again when you get back to the bus yard prior to getting off your bus. Should have checked the bus again when you get back on the bus to do your afternoon run. And that, apparently, was not done, either, because the child wasn’t discovered until she arrived at the middle school.”
At the entrance to the bus yard, a bright yellow sign asks drivers, “Have you checked your bus for students?”
Nash says there were multiple chances to find Ibn. She told WPVI:
“We recognize that procedures in place were not followed and this was a breakdown. A failure.”
Russell and Ivana say they’re less angry at the school than at the bus driver, though they wish the school had notified them earlier that Ibn was missing.
Fortunately, Ibn didn’t suffer any serious health effects from spending the day on a cold bus. His mother kept him home the next day, and his parents say he doesn’t want to take the bus to school anymore. Russell told the News Journal:
“It could have been fatal. He’s scared to get back on the bus. That can really damage a kid mentally.”
The bus driver was relieved of her duties for the rest of the day, and the school district requested she not drive for it any longer. The next day, the bus company fired her.
“In our bus driver handbook, it’s grounds for immediate termination to leave a child on a bus,” Nash told the News Journal.