WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - When your children ride the school bus, you expect the driver will drop them off at school and bring them back home.
However, this week, a Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools bus driver let two kindergarten children off at the wrong bus stop, about half a mile from their home. It was a substitute bus driver.
"I was scared somebody would get me and I would never see my mommy again," six-year-old Alexandria Norris said.
Five-year-old Minnie Brown said, "I was crying because we didn't know where we were going."
Alexandria and Minnie are cousins. They held each other's hands and walked down a dead end road. They didn't realize is, but they were walking right toward a sex offender's house.
"A stranger found my children walking, holding hands, crying down the street because they were lost," Rebecca Brown, Minnie's mother, said.
A man named Marshall found them. He said, "Once they saw me, they immediately said, 'We are lost.' I said, 'Come on over here and have a seat.' I immediately called the police department." Marshall gave them a blanket while they waited for the police and the children's parents to get there.
"When she told me they had my kids on Fleet Street, I didn't even put shoes on. I just hopped in my car," Brown said.
Now that the children are safe, the girls' mothers want answers from the school district.
"I'm really upset that I feel like no one wants to take the blame for what happened," Melissa Vaughn, Alexandria's mother, said. "Now, my six-year-old is afraid to get on the bus."
Brown added, "She let not one, but two children off the bus alone. I just want to know why. I want an explanation about how this happened."
Winston-Salem Forsyth County School District spokesperson Theo Helm said the district has addressed the issue with the driver. However, he would not say what, if any, disciplinary action administrators took. "Unfortunately, sometimes mistakes do happen and what we have to do is make sure we address them and make sure they don't happen again and everyone is safe," Helm said.
The children had yellow tags attached to their backpacks, a signal to the driver that they need to meet an adult or an older child at their bus stop before they can get off. All kindergartners and first graders must attach the tags to their backpacks.
"In this case, I think there was some question about whether the driver could see one of the tags. That created some confusion," Helm said.
Winston-Salem Forsyth County School Bus Policy
This is an excerpt from the Guilford County School's handbook:
Bus Drivers Never:
• Discharge a student at any place other than his/her assigned stop without written authorization from the parent/guardian and which has been approved/dated by the school principal. Take and keep the note!
Difficulty in Delivery of Students
Occasionally, drivers encounter difficulty in delivering students to their afternoon destinations. This may be due to an unusual circumstance, such as a roadblock that prevents delivery, no one at home to receive a younger child, suspicious circumstances in the neighborhood, and other reasons including a language barrier. There is help available to the driver to make a good choice in these situations. No student should be discharged from a school bus unless the driver is very certain that the discharge is proper and safe.
Q. What if I get to a student's home in the afternoon and it is obvious there is no one at home?
A. The answer here varies by the age and classification of the student. If the student is a special needs student, there generally are specific instructions for each situation so contact your supervisor via UHF radio or via cell phone. For mainstream students, there is no legal requirement to determine that someone is at home before discharging a student. However, if the student is in grades K-2, or, notes a problem such as confusion about which bus stop to get off the bus, or, an unusual person, car or animal is noted in the area, the best course is to stay on the side of safety. Contact your supervisor, the school, or the bus garage and provide the details and they will give you direction as to what to do, for example, return the student to the school might be the best course of action decided upon by the supervisor. If the student recognizes a neighbor or relative nearby, you may discharge the student to that individual's care if mutually agreeable to the student and to the individual but you may not force the child into that person's care. Again, whether or not you release the student in this instance, you need to give notification as noted above. If no one is available and you cannot contact any transportation department supervisor, and you believe it is unsafe for the student(s) to remain at the location, return the student to school. Contact your supervisor on the way back to the school and ask him/her to advise the school. It should be a last resort to return a student to school since there may not be anyone at the school to receive and take care of the student. If you do opt to return a student to school, you must ensure that student is under the supervision of a school administrator prior to departing from the school. If you cannot find an administrator at school, retain control of the student and take him/her to your supervisor.