By Becky Jane Newbold
A Lewis County Schools substitute bus driver was investigated by school officials following an incident in which an eight-year-old girl was left on the side of a two-lane highway to walk home.
Cacey Jones waited in her driveway on Highway 48 North/Centerville Highway and watched as the bus passed without dropping off her daughter on September 26, 2016.
“He stopped two houses down to drop off kids. Then he passed our house without letting her out. I thought he missed the stop and waited as the bus went to the next house to drop off. I stood waiting to see if the bus would circle back but it didn’t,” Jones explained.
The mother called a friend who works near the school asking her to check to see if the student missed the bus. At the same time, the mother also attempted to contact the Intermediate School by phone while waiting to see if the bus would come back to deliver her child. With no contact at the school, she called the police. “I didn’t know I could call the transportation office,” she added.
According to Director of Transportation Michaelena Kelley, the student requested the driver drop her off to walk home and he complied. She was not dropped at a specific address but it was “between Keeton Road and Cane Creek Road and was within sight of her address,” Kelley continued.
The mother indicated approximately 45 minutes passed before the eight-year-old reached her home on foot, “screaming and crying.” “I did not hear the bus stopping or see the bus drop her off,” Jones said in a telephone interview.
“The driver did not follow protocal,” Kelley said. “This was not something we approve of.”
Lewis County Schools’ bus drivers and substitute drivers complete two safety training courses, one under the supervision of the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the second under the supervision of the transportation department. All drivers “receive and sign off on paper work” regarding policies and procedures, Kelley continued.
The substitute driver had attended two training courses and signed off on policies, Kelley confirmed. Page 27, section 5 of the Lewis County Board of Education’s Transportation Department Personnel Handbook states “Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-6-32, requires school bus drivers to deposit students at student’s destination and makes failure to do so a Class C misdemeanor punishable by fine of up to $100.”
Kelley also explained drivers are kept up to date when a student’s drop off changes – either on a permanent or temporary basis. Each driver has a route book with any changes included. A staff member is available by radio at the Board of Education with a copy of the same route book each day during transportation hours. Procedure is for bus drivers to call with any questions while on their route. This was Jones’ daughter’s regular drop off point, with no changes.
The substitute driver was taken off the driver list for one week as a reprimand, Kelley said.
“His mistake was in opening the door when she said to,” Director of Schools Benny Pace said.
“I’m not the kind of person who will jump up and sue you, because she did get home safely. But now my daughter is afraid to ride the bus home,” Jones said. A neighbor who is an older student on the same bus is now watching out for the girl, Jones said.