By Brenda Flanagan
NJTV News Correspondent
Kia West says after the school bus picked up her daughter, Syeira, and headed for Paterson’s Arts & Science Charter School — she expected smooth sailing for the second grader. Then she got a call from the principal.
“He told me that she fell asleep on the bus and once they dropped all the kids off at her school, she was still sleeping and the bus driver left with her sleeping on the bus. She says she woke up and there was nobody on the bus — and that’s when she started crying. I believe the bus driver was still on the bus,” she said.
West says the driver from Madison Bus Company immediately drove Syeira back to school.
I was very upset,” she said. “More scared for her than anything because she’s seven.”
Madison is subcontracted by Essex Regional Educational Services Commission — a company hired by Paterson’s state-run school district to coordinate busing this year.
“The driver didn’t realize the child was in back. The commission discharged both the driver and the aide,” says spokesman John Watson. But West says the damage is done.
“She did not want to take the bus to school this morning, so I had to take her myself. She’s like, ‘I’m going to take the bus again one day – but not yet,'” West said.
But alarmed critics note the problems with school busing in Paterson go way beyond the incident with Syeira Hopkins. Hundreds of special education students weren’t even on the bus company’s list. When school started, the buses passed them by.
“Well, my son was excited to go back to school and he was wondering where the bus is,” said Corey Teague.
The bus never picked up Teague’s special needs son — and Teague’s a school board member. He’s gotten calls from panicked parents and says some 270 special education kids weren’t bused.
“The children weren’t picked up. Something went wrong and that’s why I said as a board member I’m going to be asked a lot more questions about it. More inquiries because something went wrong,” he said.
“We’re getting phone calls off the hook, off the hook about the transportation,” said Special Education Teacher Luisa Alcala-Van Ess.
Alcala-Van Ess claims it’s because the district never finalized special paperwork called IEPs — individualized education plans — for a couple hundred kids last year so the bus company never got a list of kids to pick up.
“Because we have a transportation form that has to be finalized, and it has to be finalized to give to the bus company. And if you didn’t finalize it you not going to get that paper,” Alcala-Van Ess said.
Paterson didn’t discuss IEPs — but in a statement said, ”…we apologize to those families who are still awaiting bus transportation (less than 200 out of 4000 who get busing). She said the district and bus company are “…working closely together to ensure all remaining bus route issues are resolved…The district will be conducting a comprehensive review to determine the root cause of these issues.” The district expects the problem with most bus routes will be corrected by next week.