School department reviews bus procedures

Posted Dec. 18, 2009, at 9:43 p.m.

BAILEYVILLE, Maine — The school department has begun a review of transportation procedures in the wake of an incident Tuesday in which a substitute bus driver dropped off a 5-year-old boy at his locked, empty home where he waited several hours in the rain for someone to come home.

Superintendent Barry McLaughlin said Friday that he already has made one change to the system that should help to prevent this type of incident in the future. In the future, he said, the district will have an aide ride with substitute drivers to provide additional backup for the driver.

All substitute drivers drive the routes ahead of time, so they know the routes, McLaughlin said. But, he said, the regular drivers get to know the families’ work patterns and routines; the substitute drivers don’t have that background.

“If we have a substitute, we’re going to put another person in the bus with them,” McLaughlin said. “We’ll have an aide, probably from the elementary school, to ride shotgun and monitor where the kids get off.”

That should “go a long way” toward ensuring that this type of incident does not happen again, he said. It is unlikely that extra staff would be used regularly for all bus runs.

“It would be great to put extra staff on, but I don’t know if we could do it every day,” McLaughlin said.

Although all school bus drivers have to be state-certified, there is no state policy that governs local school transportation, according to Maine Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin.

“Procedures are determined by local school board policies,” Connerty-Marin said Friday. “In most cases, kindergartners are not dropped off without a parent present. But, again, that is determined by local policies.”

Likewise, any disciplinary action also would be a local decision, he said, unless it involved an issue of state certification.

McLaughlin said the kindergarten drop-off policy was a good “general rule of thumb,” but added that it was not always possible. He already has said that there will be no censure of the substitute driver in this case because the driver did not have the proper information.

The situation arose when the regular driver was called away in the middle of the day for a family emergency. The child was supposed to be dropped off at day care and not at home, but that information did not get to the substitute driver.

Although the day care provider called the Woodland Elementary School when the child was not dropped off there, she was told that the child had been sent home and that it was assumed that the child’s mother had made the arrangements. The mother did not learn of the problem until she went to pick up her son at about 5:30 p.m., about three hours after he had been dropped off, according to previous reports.

The school department has a process that uses bus slips when people call in with changes in their transportation needs and routines. Those slips are used to generate a list that goes to the bus drivers as they begin their routes.

McLaughlin noted, however, that in this case, there was no change. The driver simply did not get the information about where the child was supposed to be dropped off.

The incident has sparked a review of transportation policies in the school district. Although the school board was informed of the incident at its meeting Wednesday, it took no immediate actions. McLaughlin said, however, that a review of the policies and practices has begun.

“We’ve had practices in place for a long while, and they’ve worked pretty well for us,” McLaughlin said Friday. “But we’re going to put it all in writing and disseminate it to see if there are areas we can improve on.”

McLaughlin did not directly discuss the claim that there have been several other similar incidents in the district, including one on the same day the 5-year-old was mistakenly dropped off. He said the review of practices would include measures to ensure that any problems are reported directly to the building principal and the su-perintendent so they can determine whether the problem is a systematic problem.

The superintendent’s office has begun to circulate copies of the practices and procedures for review. School board members will certainly be included in that process, McLaughlin said. He invited any community members to participate in the process.

“If anyone has ideas on how to improve on this, we’d welcome them,” he said.

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