A bus driver for the Portland school district last month dropped off a 5-year-old child with autism at the wrong location. Several blocks from his home and alone in the early evening — he got lost. One of his mother’s biggest fears then came true: Her son got into a stranger’s vehicle.
The stranger simply tried to help the child find his home, but the mother says the October incident left her and her child shaken.
Catlin Moser said that once her son got into the vehicle, he recalled her cautions about stranger danger and “freaked out.” Now he suffers from bad dreams and struggles to function through the school day, she said.
Then, this month, she had another scare.
Her boyfriend got stuck in traffic on the way to pick up her child and her son got on the school bus to go home. Her son has a yellow tag on his backpack that signals he shouldn’t be allowed to get off a bus without a familiar adult to meet him. But the driver missed this and her child got off the bus alone again.
A child from his school invited him to his home, so he was safe. But Moser says she spent close to an hour not knowing where her child was.
“I was thinking he could be dead,” she said. “It was the scariest hour I’ve ever had in my entire life.”
Portland Public Schools and the bus company they contract with, First Student, have apologized and say they are addressing factors that led to both scares. The after-school program that was caring for her son during the first incident has also apologized and expressed deep concerns.
“Words actually are not enough for this situation,” Aly’ce Brannon-Reid, the SUN site manager at Faubion school wrote to the mom after the first incident. “This is a very concerning issue since we have kindergartners and a lot of our kids riding that bus and getting released at night. I am thankful that your son was not harmed, but sorry for the inflicted trauma this has caused you and your son.”
A flawed schedule and policies that weren’t communicated between all three organizations caused the problem, according to a letter Portland Public Schools transportation spokesman Jon Coney wrote to the mother.
Additionally, he said, review of video on the bus showed someone with SUN giving the driver permission to let her son off the bus, with no adult to meet him. That person was removed from that duty, he said.
“We appreciate this is an angst filled situation when you don’t know where your child is for a period of time,” said Jay Brock, First Student bus company spokesman. Brock said the bus company is working with the district and the after-school program to analyze both incidents. The matter has prompted new training for all drivers to ensure vigilance, he said.
“Even though he had a yellow tag, the boy was allowed to leave the bus alone for a second time. This was obviously a mistake, and the district takes full responsibility for the error,” district spokesman Dave Northfield said. “It’s the district’s job to make sure the systems work that help children travel to and from school safely. The district and First Student have pulled the video and are reviewing it to learn more about what happened that day.”
Moser says her trust is broken. Her fears were amplified when she learned of other mistakes involving the bus company.
Portland Public Schools had a number of problems last school year with the First Student bus company to the great frustration of district officials and parents.
Last April, a First Student driver abandoned the Jefferson High dance team in a small town far from home.
Then-Interim Chief Operating Officer Courtney Wilton did not mince words about that matter and broader problems with the bus company: “fundamentally we need to be able to provide service to our students at a reasonable quality level, and that’s not happening right now.”
Moser said Faubion Principal Jennifer McCalley is looking into alternative transportation for her son so he can get to and from the school.
Link to original article: http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2017/11/5-year-old_autistic_child_got.html