5-year-old Delaware boy left on freezing school bus for several hours after multiple safeguards fail
A 5-year-old boy fell asleep on his bus ride to Linden Hill Elementary. He wasn't found until six hours later. 1/23/19 Damian Giletto and Daniel Sato, Delaware News Journal
Ivana Polk could not believe what she was hearing.
At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, she put her 5-year-old son, Ibn, on the bus to Linden Hill Elementary School in Pike Creek.
At 3:10 p.m., she got a call from the school district informing her that Ibn never made it to class. He had been stuck on a freezing-cold bus for several hours.
And the driver can be seen on video disregarding two students trying to tell her that Ibn was still on the bus.
"When I got the phone call, I couldn't believe it," Polk said. "My baby could have frozen to death." Temperatures were in the 20s Tuesday.
Russell Polk, Ibn's father, said his son was traumatized.
"It could have been fatal," he said. "He's scared to get back on the bus. That can really damage a kid mentally."
“It’s unacceptable," district spokeswoman Pati Nash said. "It never should have happened.”
The driver was employed by Sutton Bus Company. The contractor did not immediately respond to calls for comment.
What did happen?
Ibn was sitting in the front row of the bus Tuesday, to the right of the driver, his mom said. She watched him get on.
Then, he fell asleep.
From there, a series of missteps occurred, Nash said.
Security footage from the school bus shows two children trying to tell the bus driver that Ibn was asleep when they got to Linden Hill.
Despite their warning, the driver does not check to make sure everyone got off the bus, Nash said.
She instead drives to the bus yard, where, instead of checking the bus from front to back as policy dictates, she gets off and walks away.
“Again, the driver failed to check the bus to see that all children had gotten off," Nash said. Nash referenced a large sign hanging at the entrance of the bus yard that reads: "Have you checked your bus for students?"
“There are multiple points that that child should have been discovered," Nash said.
The security cameras shut off until approximately 1:55 p.m. when the driver picked the bus back up for a run to H.B. DuPont Middle School.
The driver does not notice Ibn until 2:50 p.m., when Ibn either coughed or made a small noise, the camera footage shows.
Nash said Ibn was immediately taken inside where he was checked over by the school nurse and given food. His parents were notified of the incident at 3:10 p.m., Nash confirmed.
The bus driver was immediately relieved of her duties for the rest of the day.
“In our bus driver handbook, it’s grounds for immediate termination to leave a child on a bus," Nash said. "The driver is not ours, but we can and we did request that driver no longer drive for Red Clay.”
Nash said roughly half of Red Clay's school buses have child reminder systems – an alarm that makes drivers intentionally walk to the back of the bus to check for students and disarm the system – including the one Ibn was riding.
It's unclear if the alarm was operating properly, if the driver ignored it or if the driver walked to the back of the bus and still did not see Ibn.
All drivers are supposed to check the buses three times, at the school in the morning, at the bus yard and at the end of a run.
“With the multiple driver checks, there is no current procedure to check the buses when they’re in the yard," Nash said. "But that may change."
What about his teacher?
“Why was I never called and texted that my child wasn’t at school yesterday?" Ivana Polk wanted to know.
Nash said the bus driver isn't the only one who didn't follow protocol.
Attendance at Linden Hill Elementary is supposed to be taken by 10:15 a.m. The information is sent to the main office, and at 11 a.m., parents get a call letting them know that their child is absent.
"That did not happen," Nash said. "Attendance was taken in that class late, so that child's name was not sent to our tech office for that automatic call."
The two children who saw Ibn sleeping on the bus did not tell staff, Nash said.
Linden Hill Elementary school dismisses at 3:50 p.m., less than one hour after the Polks got the call about Ibn.
Nash said after the incident Tuesday, teachers were sent a reminder to submit attendance on time. She couldn't comment directly on Ibn's teacher, but said, "There would be disciplinary action in a case like this."
“This is not just record keeping," Nash said about taking attendance in the morning. “We have procedures in place for critical reasons.”
Nash said those procedures will be reviewed and reinforced.
“We review safety procedures any time we let down one of our families, which we did here," she said.
She said during training, all bus drivers are shown a video of a longtime driver leaving a child on a bus. All drivers employed by the district – and its contractors – will watch it again next week.
“They’ll be strongly reminded why they have these safety procedures in place," Nash said. “Fortunately, it’s a very rare occurrence. But one time is one time too many.”
The Polks said, fortunately, Ibn did not develop hypothermia or frostbite during his six hours on the bus.
Hypothermia can occur even in the 40s and develops after prolonged exposure to the cold. You can also develop frostbite when the temperature falls below freezing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Tuesday night, his mom said, he didn't fall asleep until midnight. She kept him out of school Wednesday.
“I know that the bus driver was just careless," Ivana Polk said. "That’s a fact.”
She and her husband were less angry with the school.
"Most of my anger's at the bus driver. It's concerning to me that she didn't do her job," Russell Polk said.
He did wish Linden Hill had noticed Ibn was missing and had contacted them immediately, however.
"Usually, by 10:30 a.m. they contact you," Russell Polk. "That's still two hours. Anything can happen in two hours. They need to get that changed."
Follow Jessica Bies on Twitter: @jessicajbies.