A 4-year-old boy with disabilities was left — forgotten — on a school bus for more than four hours in Jersey City on Wednesday. The Star-Ledger reports:
The special needs student was picked up in the northeast part of the city at about 7:45 a.m. and was scheduled to be dropped off at School 3 for an extended-year school program, said Thomas Comey, the chief of Jersey City’s Police Department.
Instead, at approximately 1:10 p.m., a mechanic employed by Winsale Corp. discovered the boy in a Winsale bus at a bus storage yard on Newark Avenue, officials said. The police were called and an ambulance brought the boy to Christ Hospital in Jersey City, where he was treated and released.
“We are dealing with a child who has special needs and our ability to communicate with him orally is severely limited, which is making the investigation a little bit more difficult,” Comey said.
The boy seems to be all right, despite being locked on a schoolbus on a day when it was about 90 degrees and probably hotter in Jersey City. Both the bus driver and the aide have been fired.
Sadly, one reads about cases like this regularly. The boy’s disability is not specified; it sounds like he has speech delays and/or a speech disability and might even be on the autism spectrum. Not only is not able to tell his parents and the investigators what happened, he was also very likely not able to tell the aide or the bus driver that he had not been dropped off at school and was still on the bus.
I’m also wondering if teachers at the boy’s school program were concerned when he did not get off the bus. In every special education program my teenage autistic son Charlie has been in, if he didn’t get off the bus and we hadn’t called to say he would be absent, you can be sure the school nurse would be calling us to ask where he was. Someone at the 4-year-old boy’s school should have inquired about his whereabouts.
Charlie is a lot older than the 4-year-old boy but I have to say, I’m not entirely sure that, if he found himself in a locked vehicle, he would know that he should say something, or otherwise communicate, or do something (get out of his seat, go to the door, bang and shout). He might very well just sit and wait.
A year ago, 20-year-old Bryan Nevins died after he was left inside a locked minivan following a trip to Sesame Place amusement park with three other residents of Woods Services, a residential center for individuals with developmental disabilities in Middleton, Pennsylvania. The temperature reached 97 degrees that day (outside the van); Nevins was non-verbal and five hours passed before anyone realized he was missing.
His father, William Nevins of Oceanside, N.Y., has sued both Woods Services and the staff member, ex-employee Stacey Strauss, who was assigned to take care of Bryan Nevins. William Nevins contends that “Woods Services violated and/or disregarded their own protocol with regard to supervision and care of Bryan Nevins”; Strauss is also charged in a civil suit as having a “known history of verbal and written reprimands for using her cell phone while supervising clients and ‘unsatisfactory’ job performance evaluations.” The suit also contends that “the treatment of Bryan Nevins by Woods Services and Stacey Strauss was outrageous and oppressive and showed a reckless indifference.” Strauss is currently serving two to five years in state prison after pleading no contest to involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and neglect of a care dependent person.
I like to hope that my own son, finding himself locked in a sweltering car, would do something to get himself out. But I’m not sure that he would. Years and years of education using particular methodologies (Applied Behavior Analysis and Discrete Trial Therapy) have helped him a great deal, but he also tends to be somewhat passive and is highly likely to wait for someone to ask or tell him to do something, rather than taking the initiative. The case of the 4-year-old boy in Jersey City, and the tragic death of Bryan Nevins, remind us harshly that we need to take every possible safety precaution to make sure that no one gets left on the bus. There were only about 8 children on the boy’s schoolbus and there were only 3 other individuals with disabilities in the minivan that Bryan Nevins died in. How hard is it to make sure everyone is accounted for?
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