FARMINGTON, Minn. - Bus drivers and aides on buses carry a responsibility. Parents rely on them to keep their kids safe from home to school.
For the family of a three-year-old, who Friday, was forgotten on a school bus for four hours, the message is a serious one.
Elliott Johnson played a video game on a tablet Saturday, while sitting on his father's lap.
He spoke to his parents a little, but in general, Elliott doesn't say a lot. He has childhood apraxia, a speech disorder.
His mother, Elizabeth Johnson said, "He doesn't speak well and he's very shy."
He's getting preschool help with his speech through Farmington Area Schools at the district's Instructional Service Center.
That's where he was headed Friday morning, around 8 a.m., when his mom Elizabeth Johnson put him on a school bus, with a bus driver and a bus aide on board.
She said, "He was in the front seat right behind the bus driver strapped in."
But Elliott never got to school.
Elizabeth said, "I was speechless I just couldn't believe it."
When Elliott didn't come home at noon, Elizabeth called the school. They told her he was never there.
She called the bus service, Marschall Line, Inc. and a dispatcher found Elliott alone, still strapped in on that bus, at the bus terminal.
Elizabeth said, "For four hours I sat here thinking my son was at school. He's having fun, playing, learning. And here he is sitting on a bus alone in the dark."
Elliott's dad, Jesse Johnson, said, "It's so heartbreaking. Someone looses your kid and you have no clue where they are."
Jim Skelly is communications coordinator for Farmington Area Schools. He said, "We're just very sorry that it did happen." He continued, "There's procedures and policies in place to make sure that they don't happen, this kind of thing doesn't happen, and they just weren't followed."
Marschall Line, Inc., the bus company, issued a statement calling it a serious human error and said, "We offer our sincere apologies to the student and family involved." The statement also said, "Due to the serious breach of expectations, protocol and procedures related to student safety, both the bus driver and bus aide involved in the incident have been terminated."
The Johnsons are glad Elliott is safe but they want to send a message to all bus drivers and bus aides.
Elizabeth said, "Open their eyes. Look through the seats. Look under seats. Make sure their kids are not in the buses."
The Johnsons said they love Farmington schools and have never had any other problems with busing, so their older kids will continue to ride, but not Elliott. He told them he doesn't want to ride the bus anymore.
Elizabeth said the district offered to pay her mileage for transporting Elliott herself but she said she's not interested in the money. They also offered to let Elliott talk to a school psychologist if she felt there was a need after this incident.
The bus company said it has an ongoing safety training program and will review procedures to avoid any other incidents.
Editors note: Below is Marschall Line's statement in its entirety:
Yesterday morning, Friday April 12, an incident occurred in which a Marschall Line, Inc. School Bus Driver and Bus Aide failed to properly follow company policy and procedures to ensure all their students were safely delivered to school. This serious human error resulted in a student being left in his car-seat on the bus after it returned to the terminal. After calls had been exchanged between the student's mother, bus company staff and school officials, a bus company manager checked the bus inside the terminal parking garage and discovered the student still on board the bus sitting in his car-seat. The manager then brought the student into the bus terminal office where he was reunited with his mother. She had driven there after learning her child had been found on the bus. Due to the serious breach of expectations, protocol and procedures related to student safety, both the Bus Driver and Bus Aide involved in the incident have been terminated. The owners and employees of the bus company which serves the Farmington School District are relieved and thankful that the student was discovered safe. We remain committed to our ongoing Bus Driver and Bus Aide safety training program and will be reviewing these particular procedures in an effort to avoid any future incidents. We offer our sincere apologies to the student and the family involved.
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