A D.C. school bus driver and attendant who left a student with special needs alone on their vehicle for hours on Tuesday ignored set protocols — including disengaging a safety buzzer with an off switch at the back of the bus — and overlooked the 4-year-old boy, who stayed on the bus between the morning and afternoon runs, city officials said.
Both employees were terminated after the state superintendent's office looked into the incident, according to State Superintendent of Education Hosanna Mahaley. The boy is fine, and the family was in good spirits when the superintendent visited them Tuesday night, she said.
"What took place yesterday was a rare and unbelievable and totally unacceptable incident," she said Wednesday at Mayor Vincent C. Gray's biweekly press briefing.
Officials said the child was picked up at about 7:30 a.m. and taken to a school, which officials have not identified. The other children got off, but the boy remained on the bus. The employees traveled back to the yard and left the bus around 9 a.m. They did not notice the child until they returned for their afternoon runs, according to Mr. Gray.
Ms. Mahaley said the incident was the result of "gross and negligent violation of protocol" in four ways: The employees did not conduct routine checks of the bus outside the school, they did not check it at the yard, they disabled the buzzer, and the attendant sat near the driver instead of behind all of the children. She said the driver and attendant worked for the superintendent's office for 10 and five years, respectively, and did not offer an explanation for disabling the safety buzzer.
"They didn't have a response, they just continued to say, 'We're sorry, we're sorry, we're sorry,'" Ms. Mahaley said.
The incident has been referred to the D.C. attorney general's office for further investigation.
"It's absolutely astounding what has gone on," Mr. Gray said.
Inattentive bus drivers and attendants elsewhere have left students stranded on their school buses as well. Earlier this month in Scotland, a 5-year-old disabled girl who was the only passenger on a school bus was driven to the bus driver's home for a break instead of dropped off at school. In May, a Staten Island bus driver and attendant were both fired after a 4-year-old girl was left on a school bus for four hours. She was discovered when someone heard her screaming for help.
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