ClawsonFebruary 1, 2013
Special needs preschooler left on bus, wanders streets
By Andy Kozlowski and Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writers
CLAWSON — A 4-year-old Madison Heights boy was recently found wandering the streets of Clawson after being left on a school bus.
Clawson Public Schools has been providing busing assistance for Madison District Public Schools since 2007.
According to Clawson police, the juvenile was a special-needs student who got on the Clawson bus in front of his house in a Madison Heights neighborhood northeast of I-696 and I-75 at about 7:30 a.m. Jan. 14. The bus drove one and a half miles to Madison High School, 915 E. 11 Mile, where the boy was in a continuing education preschool class. The students got off the bus before it headed back to the CPS bus yard six miles away, next to Clawson Middle School, 150 John M, near 14 Mile and Main.
However, the boy did not get off the bus at the high school and the bus driver — who is not being named due to charges not being pressed — skipped the standard seat-check both during the drop off at the high school and before he left the bus in the Clawson bus yard.
Left alone on the bus, the boy eventually wandered about 200 yards west, to the corner of Phillips and Washington, before someone spotted him and called police at 8:49 a.m.
The temperature at 9 a.m. was 26 degrees with a wind chill of 13 degrees, police said.
“It was called in by citizens in the area of Phillips and Washington,” said Clawson police Detective John Reinhardt, who noted that the boy was reunited with his family about 20 minutes after he was found.
Finding the boy’s family was no easy task. Communicating with the boy was difficult, due to a speech issue and lack of identification on the child’s backpack or jacket. The boy also gave police an incorrect first name and age as his own, as well as no last name.
Police contacted Clawson schools and checked to see if anyone was missing from Baker preschool or Schalm Elementary, but they had no luck. The boy said he wanted to go to his dad’s house, so police walked him around, in hopes of him pointing out a nearby residence that looked familiar.
Another bus driver who had the boy’s route last year was able to identify him by his correct name and indicate that he lived in Madison Heights. The Clawson police and school district were able to connect the dots after contacting the Madison Heights district. MDPS had not discovered the boy was missing yet, but rather thought it was simply an unexcused absence.
“From our standpoint, first of all, we wanted to make sure the child was safe,” said MDPS Superintendent Randy Speck, speaking of when the district found out what transpired. “We made sure the child had been reconnected with his family, whom we have been in communication with. And we wanted to immediately determine what happened, especially on our end, to see if there was anything we could’ve done differently. Since we do contract with Clawson (Public Schools), we relied on that partnership for them to handle their own investigation of their personnel.”
Reportedly, the boy had nearly been left on the bus a week prior, when the same bus driver did not check before leaving MHS, but diligence by a Madison staff member led to the boy being discovered sleeping on the bus. He is now being driven to school in the mornings by his father, but still takes the bus home after school.
As for the bus driver who failed to check the bus, CPS Superintendent Monique Beels said he left the district Jan. 21. On unpaid suspended leave immediately after the incident, the man admitted to not checking the bus or putting up an “empty” sign near the door before vacating the bus. He had been a substitute driver since 2009, before becoming a regular driver in 2011.
“He’s no longer working in the district,” Beels said. “He voluntarily resigned.”
In light of the incident, both districts have reviewed their procedures for bus use and absences. Beels said that the driver’s negligence was the main problem in this case.
“We reviewed our procedures and, had he followed them, everything would be fine,” Beels said, noting that she would be meeting with employees in the next few weeks to stress the importance of similar safety procedures.
The Madison Heights district has updated their procedures, effective immediately. Parents are now required to call in all absences prior to 8 a.m. Madison school staff are then required to check with the office for called-in absences prior to bus arrivals, at which point the staff will cross-reference the absentee list with those who are not on the bus. If there are any absent students whose parents did not call in an absence, staff is then required to call the parents to check up on the unexcused absence.
“When they get off the bus, our procedure is to make sure everyone is accounted for, and to ask the driver to make sure everyone is off the bus,” Speck said. “If a child is absent, we then contact the family to make sure the child is safe and accounted for.”