PATERSON – A bus driver and aide have been fired because a seven-year-old student was left behind Wednesday morning after other children had gotten off the vehicle at Paterson Arts and Science Charter School, officials said.
The bus was on its way back to its depot when the child, a second-grader, was discovered at the back of vehicle, according to a spokesman for the organization that runs the city school district’s transportation program.
“The child was never alone on the bus,” said the spokesman, John Watson, the lawyer for the Essex Regional Educational Services Commission.
Watson and other officials said it was not clear how far the bus had gone from the school before the child was discovered. It’s also not clear exactly how the child was detected. Watson said someone called the bus driver when the girl had not been dropped off at the school. But the child’s mother said the girl awoke on the bus and started crying when she realized all the other children were gone.
“She’s still scared,” said the mother, Kia West. “She said to me, ‘I don’t want to ride that bus today,’” added the mother in an interview Thursday afternoon.
West said she drove her daughter to school on Thursday morning. She said she was not sure what would happen on Friday. The family lives on Mary Street, in the southwest part of Paterson, while the charter school is located in the northeastern section of the city.
Even though the child attends a charter school, the busing is the responsibility of the city school district. The bus is owned and operated by Madison Bus Company, which made the decision to fire the driver and aide, Watson said. “They’re not taking this lightly,” he said.
Representatives of Madison and the charter school could not be reached for comment.
During the first week of classes, the school district and Essex Regional have had problems setting up routes to bus almost 300 students, the majority of them in special education. West said her second-grade daughter has not had problems getting picked up.
Paterson Public Schools spokeswoman Terry Corallo said the district has not yet received an official report from the charter school. “But we have been told that the child fell asleep and the bus driver did not do what the contract stipulates – which is to check the bus front to back before departing,” said Corallo.
“The child was okay and the parents were immediately contacted by our transportation director once she was notified by a third party regarding the incident,” Corallo said.
Paterson school board member Corey Teague said the incident could have resulted in tragedy if the child had been left alone on the bus on a hot day.
Board president Jonathan Hodges said he had not gotten a report from the district headquarters about the incident.