WOONSOCKET — School officials have opened an investigation into how a local preschool student was forgotten on a Durham School Services bus on Wednesday.
The unidentified 4-year-old boy was reported by School Superintendent Giovana Donoyan to have been picked up by a Durham bus for transportation to an afternoon kindergarten class at the Gov. Aram J. Pothier Elementary School but was never dropped off at the school.
"The child was picked up at his home but was apparently asleep when the bus arrived at school," Donoyan said in a statement issued. "Durham employees continued to the bus yard with the child still on the bus. At that point in time the student was left on the bus," Donoyan reported.
Cumberland-based Durham is the school department's contractor for student busing services. The company's procedures call for both the bus monitor and driver aboard a bus to search the vehicle, both at the school and the bus yard, according to Donoyan. Neither of those steps were followed by the Durham employees, she said.
"The child was found on the bus at approximately 1:30 p.m. by another driver who was using the bus for afternoon dismissal," Donoyan said.
The child's parents were notified and at the parent's request the boy was brought home by the school bus, she said. Durham issued an apology for the incident, which remains under investigation, according to Donoyan.
Durham sent out a letter of its own on Thursday describing the incident and the steps the company has taken to address the mishap.
"This type of incident is not acceptable and is taken very seriously. I regret that our standard Child Check processes were not followed in this situation and we are currently conducting a thorough investigation — the route driver and monitor involved have been terminated," Paul Neves, Durham School Services general manager said in the statement.
Neves said Durham has a strict child check policy in place that requires every driver to check for students before they exit a bus.
"Each of our drivers receives extensive training in Child Check procedures," he said. The bus company also uses child check scanning technology on its buses that requires drivers to scan tags placed in areas of the bus that must be inspected before exiting the bus at the end of his or her route, according to Neves.
Senior safety and operational staff from Durham School Services are on site at the company's Woonsocket Customer Service Center and were reviewing the incident to "ensure that all our drivers and monitors have received the proper Child Check training and are aware of the importance of checking their buses each and every time they exit the vehicle," Neves said.
"Durham School Services' top priorty is the safety of the students we transport," Neves continued. "We are proud to be a part of your community and want to ensure you that we are working tirelessly to prevent a situation like this from happening again.”
School Committee Chairman Marc A. Dubois said he was angry to hear about the child's abandonment on the bus and is looking for more information on what steps can be taken regarding Durham's continued service to the district.
"I was upset because it was gross negligence on the part of the Durham's employees," Dubois said.
The boy was apparently left unattended on the bus for about 30 minutes and was only discovered when the second bus driver entered the vehicle and made a seat check before taking it out of the lot for an afternoon run.
The child was believed to have been sleeping on the bus, but Dubois said he was told the boy became upset and began to cry after being found alone.
Bus companies have specific policies they must follow to prevent such incidents from happening, Dubois said.
School Department attorney Richard Ackerman has been asked to look into what action could be taken regarding Durham's contract with the department in light of Wednesday's incident, Dubois said.
"As far as I'm concerned, this was a serious violation," Dubois said. The School Committee is meeting next Wednesday but Dubois said the agenda for that session has already been finalized and no action against the bus company is likely to be considered at that time. It may be possible, however, for individual members of the committee to voice their concerns about the incident under the panel's comment portion of the meeting, he said.