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Sachem Mulls Changing Bus Stop Policy

Recent scare prompts transportation department to consider increasing age for students to be kept on the bus without a guardian present.

The Sachem School District is considering whether or not to raise the grade level transportation is allowed to drop off students at a bus stop without an adult present after a first-grade girl at Chippewa was left at an empty bus stop while her parents frantically searched for her.

It all started on Jan. 6, when Chrissy Hogan, a Holtsville resident with a son, 8 and daughter, 6, was expecting her children home from school when they met their father at the bus stop on the corner of Division Street and Honeysuckle Lane. Her son got off the bus; her daughter did not. When Hogan’s husband asked his son where his little sister was, he didn’t know, nor could he say with any certainty that she was on the bus. Chrissy Hogan called Chippewa to find out if she had gotten on the bus, but the school could only confirm she had gotten on line. Nobody saw her actually board.

Now frantic, Hogan called 911.

‘As everyone can imagine, the fear and sickness I felt was indescribable,’ Hogan wrote in a post on the Facebook group “Sachem Moms.” ‘My 8 year old son fell to the floor and began to cry as well when he heard me sobbing to the 911 dispatcher the description of my daughter and where she was last seen. It was the longest and most HORRIFIC 15 minutes of my life.’

While Hogan was on the phone with police, she looked out the window of her home office and noticed a little girl in familiar clothes walking down the street. She ran out of the house and scooped her daughter up.

As it turns out, the 6-year-old had been drawing pictures with her friend on the bus and missed her stop. According to Hogan, the 1st-grader alerted the driver, who went to one more stop, then headed back to her's. The bus stop was deserted at this point. According to Transportation Supervisor Stephen Shadbolt, the driver asked the little girl if she knew how to get home. She nodded yes, and the driver let her off.

According to both Shadbolt and Bruce Singer, associate superintendent of Sachem Schools, the driver followed the school’s transportation policy.

“He did what he was trained to do,” Singer said. “You have to look at the circumstances in total. There’s nothing cut or dry about this; it’s a judgement call at the moment.”

According to Hogan, she was informed that while the driver was not disciplined, he was going to be retrained and re-assigned to another bus route.

Now at the center of the debate, for both Hogan and Shadbolt, is whether or not a six-year-old is old enough to get off of a bus and walk home alone.

“How could you determine a positive difference between a six-year-old kindergartner, and a six-year-old first grader?” Hogan asked. “There really is none.”

But the school's policy as it stands, clearly only applies to kids at the kindergarten level. From first grade on, students can, and are, dropped off at bus stops unattended, with drivers making judgment calls about the safety of the situation. Shadbolt said that judgement applies to all students.

“We've brought students back all the way up to high school who were uncomfortable because either they didn't have keys or things weren't right, or something was amiss,” he said. “We would bring any child back to school that was uncomfortable getting off the bus at their home stop.”

“During this situation, if you’re leaving the driver to make that decision, where does common sense come into play?” Hogan asked.  “My husband never would have suspected that a six-year-old would be let off the bus. Had she been more adventurous who knows what she would have done.”

Both Singer and Shadbolt have now set to the task of evaluating its policy for a possible amendment. They plan to be in contact with the elementary school principals from all 12 Sachem schools to discuss the logistics of changing the policy. According to Hogan, they will be meeting with her, her husband and Chippewa Principal Patricia Aubrey at the school on Jan. 21.

Singer said things to consider are how this may affect timing on bus routes and whether or not there will be any staff at the school to supervise children brought back to campus.

“On a normal day we can have between six and 10 children being brought back to the school,” Singer said. “That’s just the kindergarten kids. If we’re now going to extend to K through 3, it could be 30 or 40 children being brought back.”

Shadbolt said another issue is that some children are released to the supervision of guardians who aren't physically able to meet them at the stop. If the policy is changed, those students wouldn't be allowed to get off.

“We have to make sure we can implement it before we can amend it,” Singer said. “We have 200 buses on the road every day. It’s not that simple of flipping a switch and saying ‘OK we’re doing it.’ We really have to do our homework on it, evaluate it, see what the impact is… It’s a major change it’s not a little change.”

If there is any change to the policy, it will need board approval and will likely not be implemented until the 2014-15 school year.

For Hogan, it’s worth the time and energy. Her daughter is safe. But it could have turned tragic.

“Why does the extreme have to happen in order for something to change?” Hogan said. “Let’s take this as a big red flag. If anything good can come out of a situation, then I’d want to see a policy change. ”
Adriene Tagliarino January 16, 2014 at 11:30 AM
I have long agreed that the age should be raised. What makes a 1st grader anymore responsible than that of a kindergartner?
Chrissy Hogan January 16, 2014 at 11:54 AM
Thank you for sharing our story Matt. I am optimistic that the District will stand behind my family and I in our fight for a change!
Jenifer BluChip January 16, 2014 at 12:00 PM
This whole thing sounds strange. Why wouldn't the parent at the bus stop ask the bus driver to look for the other kid. She was drawing, why couldn't someone just have called out her name? There's no one thing to blame here, the bus drivers are overwhelmed as it is and he did what he was supposed to do.
Jim D January 16, 2014 at 12:21 PM
Knowing the parent was looking for the child I don't understand why the driver would not drive the child directly to her home and either bring her to the door or watch her go inside and get a wave from a parent so say everything is ok. That would have been the right thing to do.
Chrissy Hogan January 16, 2014 at 12:35 PM
Jenifer, my husband was standing about 10 ft from the bus. My oldest child got off and as he was asking my son where our daughter was, the driver drove off before he could ask. He did not do what he was supposed to do. They are "trained" in the safety of the children on their routes. He should have radioed into his dispatcher, alerted them that he had my daughter and she was safe. Then asked if she should be returned to the school or the bus stop where a parent was present. I think what is "strange" is that you also consider dropping off a 6 year old child at a deserted corner in the rain, "the right thing to do"
Lenise Scandole Lauria January 16, 2014 at 01:26 PM
I read this story on Sachem Moms and was horrified to think that this could be any of our children left alone to walk home in the rain.. No exceptions here. I am so sorry This happened to your family Chrissy. My son is in Kindergarten and from what I have witness on a daily basis is that the Kindergarteners & 1st graders on our bus must sit in the First 3 rows. This way they are visual to the driver. I wonder, is this the case for all of Sachem or Just Taramac students. If not this should be implimented on all routes. It seems to work very well. Plus I can see my where my son is seated in the morning and the afternoon. Just the first step to improve this situation.
Alfonso Cutillo January 16, 2014 at 06:51 PM
I agree something smells funny... I pick my kids up everyday and I walk up to the bus to get my kids I don't stand back 10 feet and allow my kids to come up to me... Maybe if daddy stood near the bus stop he could have spoken to the bus driver right away and she would have been found then...when dad allowed the bus to pull away then try to fix NO NO NO you hubby messed up dear.. then dealing with the bus driver I don't know how the bus transportation said he followed the law. Middle country nobody at bus stop Child goes back to the school.. Bus driver won't allow a child to get off even if dad is 10 feet away... take some responsibility.. That's like saying I turned my head for a second...
Chrissy Hogan January 16, 2014 at 09:06 PM
Alfonso...you clearly did not read the story correctly. I won't even address your remarks
Jennifer January 16, 2014 at 10:11 PM
It's very easy in the heat of a moment to blame people who are just doing their jobs. There are multiple people to "blame" for how the situation turned out. But understand that this bus driver was following protocol. We live in a world where you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. If he did bring her back to the school, and was alone with her on the bus, you as a parent could turn around and say "that is inappropriate". I understand you're upset about what happened, but it sounds like your son was more traumatized than your daughter who actually went through this. As far as the story is told, it seems like she was fine and did the right thing. I'd be more worried about your son than your daughter. And I'd stop blaming the bus driver, who was trying to make a judgement call in this lawsuit and complaint happy world we live in. I'd also make sure that your husband waits at the bus stop, not 10 feet away. There are a lot of factors involved here. Thank goodness that all ended well and your little girl is safe.
Richard B January 16, 2014 at 11:49 PM
If a bus was driving off without dropping off my child I would be running after the bus. I think dad dropped the ball here.....
Laura Grosso-Keenan January 17, 2014 at 07:16 AM
As I am reading these posts on "who to blame"i am reminded of when my sons age 20 and 23 where on the bus. I find it funny that people are so fast to judge others. I hope and pray that Jennifer and Alfonzo never ever feel the pain of missing a child for one second. If u have kids don't u dare ever ever turn your back or zone out because people "like u" will be there to judge. It is about a policy change not about the father who supports his children by being at the bus stop. You better hope u are never in a grocery store or a crowded place where you lose sight of your precious gifts from god.But if you ever do REMEMBER that sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach and remember how IT COULD HAVE BEEN YOURE KID.that you lost.Until then don't judge others because you just don't know.
Jennifer January 17, 2014 at 08:22 AM
Oh I wasn't judging. I was merely trying to say that the mother shouldn't judge the bus driver, she should understand that there are many facets to this situation. I have lost a child (who hasn't?) And it absolutely was the most terrifying few minutes of my life. But I didn't blame anyone but myself. And I didn't tell the people at the amusement park that I was at to change their policy although they most likely should have. Because bottom line, I'm the parent. This is a slightly different situation however. Again I was not judging. Just asking her not to judge and set up a "witch hunt" for this bus driver when the situation is much more gray than that.
KMP January 17, 2014 at 12:31 PM
Did the father ask the bus driver where his daughter was? Did someone stay at the bus stop for the daughter just in case she missed her stop? Please stay at the stop and use your cell to call the school or transportation. Sachem does their best to keep your children safe!
Carol January 17, 2014 at 09:25 PM
As I happen to know the bus driver involved, you might want to know that he DID call his dispatcher right away and told them that he was returning the child. He did everything he was supposed to do correctly. The blame is not on the bus driver here, the only blame to place would be on the school district's policy. I too as the mother of 2 would be beside myself if this had of happened to me, but I certainly would have called the transportation department to ask them if they knew where the child was. The driver did go to another route, but that was by his choosing because of the "blame him" atmosphere that was started on "Sachem Moms". He did nothing wrong, so he wasn't "re-trained". My son loved him as his driver and has told me all the other children thought the same way about him. Let's try and remember whom or what the REAL culprit is here. I won't blame the father as I wasn't there to see where or what he was doing at the time
Chrissy Hogan January 18, 2014 at 09:05 AM
Everyone is missing the point here. The bottom line of this story is that there is a very "grey area" when it comes to the safety of children over grade K in this district. For ANYONE to point a finger at my husband for this scenario is comical. He is the most paranoid and protective father anyone could meet, especially because of what he sees daily in his line of work. My post on Sachem Moms was prompted by my disturbing conversation with Steven Shadbolt, who kept referring to a "policy" that DOES NOT EXSIST. When I asked him if the result of everyone doing their job correctly, landed my 6 year old left alone, at a deserted street corner, in the rain, and he said yes...I felt the Sachem parents had a right to know what was considered acceptable. As for the driver involved, I never requested he be terminated. I do feel he made a terrible judgement call and put my daughter in danger. I requested our driver be changed because my daughter was traumatized over this event and asked me if she can be a "walker" from now on so I can driver her to and from school so she didn't have to ride the bus. I don't care who thinks what as far as blame here. My commitment is to institute a policy for elementary students to ensure their safety. I am sure that if anyone who is criticizing felt my anquish for even a moment, you would be fighting for a change too. I am most grateful that my daughter made it home safely. But now...I am on a mission to make sure the children in our Sachem family remain safe and a policy is put into affect that will protect them, as well as the drivers. This way, drivers don't have to be put in a position to make the call whether or not a child canmake it home safely without an adult present.
Jim D January 18, 2014 at 09:24 AM
@Carol The right thing to do would have been for the driver to bring the girl right to her house and not leave her at a bus stop. It was a bad judgement call for the driver. I know our driver would never leave any elementary kid at the bus stop alone. She always makes sure someone is there for them or a neighbor watches out for them. In this case with no one around that driver should have taken her to her home to ensure her safety. The Driver knew the dad was looking for her so I don't understand why the driver would have left her at a bus stop. Again, bringing her to her front door would have been the right thing to do.
Chrissy Hogan January 18, 2014 at 09:36 AM
Thank you Jim...it is refreshing to hear another voice of reason. I appreciate your support.
Stephanie January 21, 2014 at 05:47 PM
Hi Chrissy! I'm so sorry you had to go through this-it had to be terrifying. I posted this at the beginning of the school year. http://sachem.patch.com/groups/riding-the-bus/p/bus-drivers-responsibilities It really needs to be addressed.
Carol January 26, 2014 at 03:54 PM
@Jim D, that would be in a perfect world where the driver would actually know the address of all the children (they don't necessarily have that info) and if it wouldn't take the driver out of their route. If they had to drive a child home and had to go down a block they weren't familiar with, how do they know how to get out of there? It is one thing for them to return the child to the school, an entirely different thing to bring them to their homes. And if they brought them home, what happens now if there isn't anyone home for them? Bringing them back to school is preferential in my mind, but that is NOT the current procedure for this district.
MT Poquets February 03, 2014 at 01:01 PM
The bus driver was wrong in dropping off the child without a parent present. Of course this could have been avoided if the parent was close enough to the bus to address the driver on the where abouts of his child instead of questioning an 8 year old who was oblivious to where his sister was. Sometimes you have to put your big boy pants on and take responsibility.

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