GREENFIELD — Tim Essex faced every parent’s worst nightmare Tuesday when he met his son Landon’s bus after school: He was told by the driver the kindergartner never got on the bus.
The news sent Landon’s father into a near-panic, wondering where his son was and hoping Landon had simply missed his ride home from school.
However, after checking with officials at J.B. Stephens Elementary School, where Essex was assured by school staff that Landon had gotten on the bus, he became even more anxious as he and school authorities began looking for his lost son.
Turns out Landon was just fine, sound asleep in his bus seat, two rows behind the driver. She found him some 30 minutes later when she ended her route and made a routine check on the bus.
While Landon was never in danger, and father and son were quickly reunited at the school, Essex said the whole incident could have been avoided had the bus driver simply checked for Landon when she saw his father waiting for him at the bus stop.
“If she would have taken just 30 seconds to take a quick look, she would have saved a lot of people about 30 minutes of grief,” Essex said.
Once school officials told Essex his son had indeed boarded the bus headed for home, the message was relayed several times to the bus driver, who Essex said should have pulled over right away into a safe area and immediately checked the bus for his son, but she didn’t.
Instead, the driver completed her route, which on this day included taking home another student, also named Landon, who had inadvertently gotten on the wrong bus.
“When a child is missing, you stop and you look right away,” Essex said. “They knew where that child was, but we didn’t know where my son was.”
Greenfield-Central transportation director Bill Redmon said while his driver, whom he declined to identify, should have used more better judgment when she saw the father waiting on his child, the driver followed protocol and checked the bus when the route was over. State law requires bus drivers to inspect their vehicles to be sure no one is still aboard.
Superintendent Linda Gellert, in an email to the Daily Reporter, reiterated Redmon’s statement.
“G-C has very clear protocols requiring all bus drivers to check every seat at the end of bus routes,” Gellert wrote. “I am confident that this sleeping child would have been found. Clearly, I understand this father’s angst, however. Each year, we seem to have opportune sleepers on the bus, as was in this case.”
Redmon said it’s up to a driver’s discretion when to stop a bus and get out of the driver’s seat to address a student situation.
“Indiana law says the driver at the end of their route is to check their bus for any students, and when she got done with that last student, she checked,” Redmon said.
“They put it at the end of the trip because they don’t want the driver getting up and out of their seat during their route because that is not a safe practice.”
Normally, Landon Essex would have been the last student getting off the bus in the Indigo Springs sub-division, but Redmon said the driver was preoccupied with the other Landon and getting him to where he needed to be rather than worrying about a student who she thought had just missed his ride.
“Our drivers can’t be getting up every time a kid doesn’t get off a school bus,” Redmon said. “That happens all the time when kids stay after school for programs or activities or Mom picks up a kid, and the dad didn’t know it.”
Redmon said it is not uncommon for students to miss their bus stop or even get off at the wrong bus stop.
“There are kids that just flat forget because they were playing around and didn’t realize it,” he said.
Still, Redmon said he and district officials were not happy that Essex had some scary moments that could have been avoided had the driver checked for the student once she was informed the student had gotten on the bus.
“Could she have done better? Yes, she could have,” Redmon said. “But, this is the first time anything like this had ever happened to her.”
Redman said the driver was disciplined, but he would not elaborate.
Essex said he’s just thankful everything turned out well for his son. However, he was disappointed to see the same driver Wednesday morning when he loaded up Landon for school.
He felt the driver should have been reprimanded or suspended for not looking for his son sooner, particularly when school officials and transportation officials informed the driver the boy was last seen by school officials who saw Landon get on the bus.
“My concern is I don’t know if I can ever trust that bus driver again,” Essex said. “She got a slap on the hand… You would think there would be a little more punishment for losing a child.”