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February 01, 2009  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

An unforgettable night

by Thomas McMahon, Executive Editor

Throughout my time covering the bus industry, this may be the most troubling thing I’ve come across:

“[The bus matron] told police she knew Rivera hadn’t been dropped off and was asleep on the bus when she got off, the [criminal] complaint said. But she didn’t tell the driver because she was headed for an appointment and didn’t want to go back to Rivera’s East Harlem home.”

This is from a Jan. 2 Associated Press article about a severely disabled 22-year-old who was left to spend a freezing night — New Year’s Eve, no less — on a bus in a Brooklyn, N.Y., lot.

While the bus in this case wasn’t a school bus — Ed Rivera had reportedly been picked up from a special-needs day program — the incident is certainly relevant to pupil transportation.

No excuses
As we at SBF search the Internet for news each day, we often find stories of children being left on school buses. These mishaps are always inexcusable, but the Brooklyn bus incident is particularly egregious.

First of all, the bus matron (or aide, as they’re known in other areas) knew that Rivera was still on the bus, according to police. It was not an accident!

Some news reports noted that the appointment that the matron felt such pressure to get to was a New Year’s Eve program at her church. Which begs the questions: Was she able to focus on the program, or was she caught up in wondering whether someone else had noticed that Rivera was still on that bus? Did it occur to her that Rivera might be “ringing in the New Year” by curling up in his seat, trying to stay warm as temperatures dipped below 20 degrees?

Although Rivera’s family reported him missing that night, he wasn’t found until the next morning. Police and family members searched the bus compound that night, but they didn’t discover the back lot on the property, which was where Rivera’s bus was parked, until they returned in the morning.

Rivera was taken to a hospital and treated for hypothermia.

The bus matron was subsequently fired and charged with reckless endangerment.

Big news
Rivera’s heartrending tale was picked up by news outlets across the country, which is not surprising.

Children being left on school buses also tend to be big stories. This is unfortunate, because we have hundreds of thousands of school bus drivers and aides across the country who are devoted to the safety and well-being of their passengers, and, for the most part, their good work goes largely unnoticed.

We’ve written many articles discussing how to prevent child-left-behind incidents. Staff training, constant reminders, “Bus Empty” signs and electronic child-check systems are some of the key measures that school bus operations take.

But at the end of the day, it comes down to a personal decision by the bus driver or aide: Will I take the extra time to check the bus and make sure every passenger gets home, or do I have more important things to do?

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