Michael Figgins, a resident of Sarasota County, FL reported to WDW – FL in an email:
A very disturbing thing happened today [August 20th, the first day of school in Florida]. I had just arrived home in the early afternoon, was getting my mail from the mailbox and I saw this very young girl walking alone on my street. She walked by my house once, then again and then again. I asked her if she was lost and she told me that she was lost. I asked her if she knew where she lived and she replied that she did not. Since it was the usual time that the younger children get dropped at the bus stop, I assumed that there must have been a mix-up somehow. After talking with her a little more she told me that she did know that she lived on my street, but did not know her address. She then remembered that her mom had written her address on a slip of paper and that it was in her backpack. She showed me the address and it confirmed that she lived on my street. As we walked to her house, it began to rain very heavily. The little girl lives approximately a quarter of a mile from the bus stop. We were both soaked by the time we arrived at her home. The grandfather was home and I explained who I was and that I was their neighbor. He was very relieved to know that she was safe.
Figgins noted in the email, “I remember last year when a 5-year old child was left, by the school bus driver, to wander all alone down Midnight Pass road. In that incident another neighbor was there to pick up the school system’s slack. Something needs to be done. All ended well this time. We might [not] be so lucky next time.”
We have looked into the situation. Here’s what happened:
The second-grade girl at Phillippi Shores Elementary was supposed to ride the bus and so was her brother, a fifth-grader. For some reason her brother did not think there was bus service on the first day of school so he did not get on the bus when his sister did, but instead went to the school office. Both students are new to the school this year, and the boy did not mention his younger sister.
A staff member at the school contacted the students’ parents to say the boy was at the school and needed to be picked up (the message did not say that both children were at the school, only that the brother was there). Both parents came to pick up the brother and were reminded that their daughter was riding the bus home and would be arriving at the bus stop soon. However, when the second-grader arrived at the bus stop, no one was there to pick her up and she apparently started walking in a direction away from her home.
Mr. Figgins, we appreciate your assistance with the little girl and your concern about her safety. Her parents have since decided to come and pick up both of their children after school. Both students will have labels with the family ID number on their backpacks each day for the first two weeks of school, indicating that they will be picked up by their parents.
Although all our schools strive to help students avoid mix-ups regarding transportation, there is usually some confusion on the first day of school as everyone, including parents, gets used to new routines. Whenever we are made aware of these situations we address them immediately to ensure that students, parents, school staff and Transportation Department staff are on the same page regarding transportation of students.
Ellery Girard, our director of Transportation, provided this additional information: “We continue to communicate with parents of young children the importance of being at the bus stop in the mornings and afternoons. The transportation protocol is to drop all children off at their stops; if any child does not want to get off, or if there are students left on the bus at the end of the route, we contact the school and the bus returns them to school. The school staff then calls the parents to pick them up at school. Transportation also works with the schools to provide a route supervisor for their open houses prior to school opening. At the open houses we give parents bus-stop information and registration forms. The registration form gives parents an opportunity to let us know if they do not want their child dropped off without an adult at the stop.”
Figgins replied to the email from Ferguson stating:
Based on the email [above], it sounds like you all are attempting to duck and cover as per your usual. Telling me how hard the job is, does not justify or excuse the lack of responsibility on the part of the Sarasota County School District. I wonder, had I not brought this incident to your attention, would you even have cared. I suggest that you would have swept the entire incident under the rug like you do every other time you screw up and thanked your lucky stars that this little 7-year old was not abducted and murdered. Looks like you dodged another bullet. For now.
As soon as you realized that the little 7 year girl was lost, what was the first thing that you did? Did you contact the bus driver to confirm that the little girl was indeed on his bus? What would you have done if the little girl had gotten off at the wrong bus stop? Maybe you could have had a sheriff’s deputy stop the bus and find the little girl. There are many things that you could have done to ensure the safety of that little girl, but it appears that you did nothing to help. What we do know, is that you were tested by this incident and you failed miserably. I hope you realize that damage control is not a option this time.
Figgins ended his email with, “I understand that the little girl’s parents have decided to pick their kids up after school from now on. Can you blame them?”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scott Adams, a citizen journalist for WDW – FL, has written several columns about tragedies on public school buses. Two of them led to the deaths of young children.