Lee Elementary student left sleeping on school bus
When a Lee Elementary student didn't show up at school on the morning of Friday, Dec. 8, school staff, knowing he sometimes fell asleep on the way, alerted the bus company, and they found him sleeping on the bus all by himself. This is the second occurrence in Canby in the last few years.
"If the school didn't call, how long would my son have been on that bus?" said John Kolb, the boy's dad.
All Student Transportation of America school bus drivers are required to check the bus for students after a route and push the "all clear" button at the back. The substitute driver on duty that day did a check, according to Canby's Communication Coordinator Heather Sparks, but didn't see 8-year-old Aiden sleeping in the back.
"The boy was asleep in the back seat of the bus and his head wasn't visible above the seat in front of him," Sparks said. She added, "When she got to the back of the bus she pushed the child check button and then started walking to the front of the bus, unfortunately, when she turned, her back was turned away from one seat: the seat in which the boy was sleeping."
By the time the school called the bus company, Aiden had been alone on the bus, which was parked outdoors, for 20-30 minutes.
"I got told that the bus driver didn't do her check right," Kolb said. "The way she did it was not right."
So, STA fired the driver.
"We are very disappointed that the driver did not follow the very clear company policy and proper procedures for checking the bus," a spokesperson from STA said in an email. "Since we have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to incidents like this the driver has been terminated. We take matters like these very seriously since the safety of our passengers is our top priority."
Tammy Kolb, Aiden's mom, is a bus driver herself and she used to drive for First Student in Canby. It brings her some comfort that STA is taking matters seriously, but she is still concerned that this could happen again.
"I want to know, how is it not going to happen again?" Tammy Kolb said. "I just hope they'll reevaluate their training procedures, maybe revisit that and re-train their bus drivers, not just once."
Fortunately, when the STA employee went to check on Aiden, he was still fast asleep, according to Sparks.
"When he woke up he was a little confused but the STA employee was right there to ease his confusion," Sparks said.
Tammy Kolb was stuck at work that morning and unable to leave, but she too believes that Aiden was doing okay after the incident.
"A teacher from the school had gone to the bus barn and ended up picking him up, and when he came back to school, he thought it was all exciting and it was like an adventure," Tammy Kolb said, "and I guess he wanted to tell his whole class. He was giving fist pumps."
Despite her concerns with STA, Tammy Kolb is pleased with how the school handled the situation even though they called the bus company first rather than notifying the parents. A school counselor checked in on Aiden at recess that day, and the principal called to follow-up with Tammy Kolb.
"All I can say is in my personal opinion, the school did awesome considering this whole circumstance," Tammy Kolb said. "Yeah, sure I probably would have wanted to be notified as they're going to the bus barn to pick him up, but considering, it was amazing what they did."
This is not the first kid-left-on-the-bus instance that has taken place in Canby. Three years ago, 5-year-old Jackson was left on the school bus for nearly an hour instead of arriving at school for his first day of kindergarten. He hadn't fallen asleep, he was just short in stature. That bus driver too was terminated. At the time, Canby School District was using First Student for transportation. After the incident, the bus company assured Jessica Dearborn, Jackson's mom, that they would be doing a two-person bus check from then on.
But in 2016, the district switched over to STA for transportation, and Dearborn wonders if that two-person check isn't happening anymore. Like Tammy Kolb, she wants to be assured that another kid won't be left alone on a school bus.
"I want them to have some double-check or some way that they are not going to let it happen again, like a zero tolerance, because it's absolutely not okay," Dearborn said. "And when I heard it happened again, it just brought those feelings back of, like, rage, sort of—panic for the parents and rage that it happened again.
"It should never happen," she said.
Aiden's mom and dad have an upcoming meeting with Superintendent Trip Goodall, and Sparks offered this assurance:
"It's not okay," Sparks said, "and safety is our number one priority."