By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
A Summit County sheriff's deputy was so angry that a Green bus driver skipped his street Tuesday afternoon without dropping off his 5-year-old son, he filed an incident report with the sheriff's office.
Mark McElroy said he was waiting in his driveway for the bus for half an hour until school officials called his wife at 5:15 p.m. to tell her their son, Preston, was at the bus garage.
''Preston was petrified,'' McElroy said. ''He ran to me and jumped into my arms and wouldn't let go.''
The boy, who attends the full-day kindergarten at Greenwood Early Learning Center, had fallen asleep on the bus and did not respond when the bus driver called out his stop.
The boy is the only child on the bus who gets off there, so the driver skipped that street and continued with the route, Superintendent Michael Nutter said Wednesday.
The driver had another child on the bus when she finished her route because that child didn't have an adult waiting at the bus stop.
It was that child who told the driver McElroy's son was sleeping in his seat.
The driver, who has been with the district about five years, then took both children to the bus garage so their parents could pick them up.
McElroy said his son's day began at 8:20 a.m., when he was picked up, and he was due to be dropped off at 5 p.m.
''Quite a long day for a 5-year-old,'' McElroy wrote in a letter to the media. ''Very unacceptable.''
Nutter said it's common for kindergarten-age children to fall asleep on the bus, especially
in the first month, when they're adjusting to the rigors of all-day school. That's why drivers are required to stop at all stops.
He said the driver, identified in the noncriminal incident report as Vicki Stout, will be disciplined for skipping McElroy's street.
''It could be anywhere from a verbal warning to a written reprimand,'' Nutter said. ''Grounds for termination would be leaving a kid on a bus alone. The child was never left alone or in any danger.''
The driver felt terrible about the mistake and apologized to the family, Nutter said.
In this case, the driver knew McElroy's son was on board before the bus returned to the garage. Even if she didn't, drivers are required to perform a final check at the bus garage.
The high seats make it difficult to see children when they're sleeping, so drivers must walk through the bus and inspect every seat. They must then place a sign on the back of the bus indicating that it's empty before walking away, Nutter said.
Tuesday was the first day this year drivers had all the kindergartners on the bus at one time.
Nutter said that in the next few weeks, drivers will get to know the kids on their bus, which should reduce the chance of accidentally missing a child's stop.
McElroy alleges that changes to Green's busing schedule this year endangered his child.
Last year, the district sent out buses in two big groups, which resulted in long bus rides and unsafe boarding conditions at some of the schools because of the congestion.
This year, the district is sending out three groups of buses.
''Some kids were on a bus 55 minutes last year,'' Nutter said. ''Here, under the new system, they're not on more than 35 to 45 minutes at the longest, on the outer reaches, but some of these kids are only on the bus five or 10 minutes if they're closer to the school.''
That requires fewer buses, but they have more students riding them.
''It's fewer buses, fewer drivers,'' Nutter said. ''It does save the district money, obviously, which is good, but it's actually more efficient for us and it's safer for kids.''
He said the new system still has some bugs and the buses this year have been running 10 to 15 minutes late. The district hopes to solve those problems soon.
The changes are saving about $100,000 a year, but they have nothing to do with what happened to McElroy's son, Nutter said.
''Kids fall asleep every year, especially in the first couple of weeks because they're exhausted,'' Nutter said. ''This didn't have anything to do with three-tier busing or two-tier busing. This had to do with a kindergarten kid who was tired.''