Students left behind on their bus — Why is it still happening?
Since the start of 2018, more than 20 students in New Jersey have been forgotten on their school bus, left to fend for themselves or wait for someone to spot them.
Considering the fact that approximately 800,000 children are transported to and from school on a daily basis in the Garden State, some may argue the above statistic isn't so bad.
But how does it happen even once?
While state law requires that school bus drivers inspect their vehicles to determine no pupils have been left behind, there's no one blanket procedure that every New Jersey school bus driver must follow before exiting the bus when they're done with their route.
Rules on child checks can vary from district from district. In some cases, drivers are prompted to complete certain tasks at the end of their route — flipping a sign or pressing a button at the back of the vehicle, for example — in order to ensure no children are left unattended.
Under New Jersey's law, a driver who has left a child on their bus would have their school bus endorsement suspended for six months on a first offense, and permanently revoked on a second offense.
Despite those punishments in place since 2007, several incidents of abandoned students are reported every academic year.
So far in 2019, according to the state Department of Education, there have been eight such reports, and there were 14 in calendar year 2018.
In the latest reported case, a special-needs preschooler in Point Pleasant was left on a garaged bus for about an hour before a high school student spotted the child. The driver and aide responsible for the incident were fired.
In an interview with New Jersey 101.5, the state Department of Children and Families said the department may revisit its outreach campaign from 2015 that aimed to eliminate these incidents. As part of the campaign, approximately 9,200 sticker were sent out statewide, asking, "Is everyone off the bus? Check everywhere and be safe."
A would-be stranded child isn't always just sitting or laying in a seat. At times, students have been spotted sleeping on the wheel well, or hiding underneath a seat.
"We probably will take a look at rebranding and repackaging that when we send out this year's email to superintendents," said DCF spokesman Jason Butkowski.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.