Bus drivers working for the Newport News Public Schools are responsible for a variety of duties, including dropping off and picking up kids at designated bus stops.
But what happens when a bus driver drops a child off at the wrong bus stop?
Last week, Hailey Robertson, 5, was dropped off at the wrong bus stop on 26th Street, Jackson Robertson, Hailey’s father, said.
The kindergartner was found wandering around the area until a woman with children getting off the bus noticed the young girl had been standing there in the rain for 25 to 30 minutes.
Hailey was wearing a lanyard with an identification card with her name on it, bus and route number so the woman called police and an officer called child’s father before taking the child to her home.
Robertson, who works at Newport News Shipbuilding as a ship fitter, was 20 minutes away and out of town when this happened.
“I started freaking out,” he said. “I was scared to death.”
When Hailey’s babysitter arrived at the bus stop and saw the child was not there, she was about to go on the bus and look for the child, Jackson said.
After he found out his daughter was safe and coming to the house, he called the babysitter and told her to come to the house.
This was the child’s first time using the bus.
“Somebody could have easily taken her and we would have never seen her again,” Robertson said, adding he had called the district’s transportation department and reported the incident, multiple times.
Michelle Price, spokeswoman for Newport News Public Schools, said the bus driver was pulled from working the bus route.
“The driver did not follow protocol,” Price said.
The school district has a three-card identification system for pre-school and kindergarten students who use the school bus and are each given a lanyard with three matching cards, Price said.
“The parent can keep a card and give the other cards to caretakers authorized to receive the preschool or kindergarten student,” she wrote in an email. “When the bus arrives at the stop, the card must be given to the driver to match with the child’s card.”
“If there is no yellow card or a form of approved ID from the designated person at the stop, the student will be returned to school,” she added.
If not, the child is returned to the school and the office reaches out to the parents.
The incident remains under investigation so Price is unsure of the outcome nor could she elaborate, citing it’s a personnel matter.
However, Price did say the driver, a woman, had worked as a bus driver for years.
“It was a veteran bus driver,” Price said. “Well over 10 plus years of experience.”
When asked how Robertson feels about the bus driver’s consequences, he said the decision to remove her from driving the route was fair.
“My wife and I actually talked about this that night,” he said. “We felt like that was negligence.”
The family has been in Newport News for about a year and was concerned because they learned human trafficking is an issue in Hampton Roads.
“I’ve got three daughters,” Robertson said. “I know it’s probably a lot of kids to deal with 25 to 30 kids ––– that procedure is set in place for a reason.”
Bus drivers working for the district have a starting hourly rate of $14.92 with a max range of $25.60, Price said.
She noted a long time bus driver could make more money with raises.
Each bus driver is responsible for a certain number of kids, about 35 on each route and the district used a system to plot all of the bus stops along a route.
In order to be eligible to work as a bus driver, applicants must be 18 years and older, have a good driving record, a high school diploma or GED and become CPR and CDL certified.
After a one-week CDL prep course with classroom instruction and three to four weeks of behind the wheel instruction and school procedures like pre-trip safety checks, traffic laws and student evacuation procedures, the bus driver is eligible to drive.
Price said certain procedures such as the three-card identification system, are reinforced during annual training.
Robertson said his wife Abby reached out to an attorney to see what the family’s options are.
He said the attorney advised the family to request a police report before meeting.
So the day after the incident, Jackson went to the south precinct around 4 p.m. to get a copy of the police report.
But there was no report of the incident, he said.
WYDaily called police Capt. Jason Bolhorst and inquired about how to get a copy of a police report. He referred WYDaily to the department’s records division.
WYDaily called the records division and asked for a copy of the police report, but was instructed to file a FOIA request.
A reporter asked Kim Damico from the records division to look up the police report.
After describing what happened to Hailey, Damico was able to find out some information, but not a police report.
“I don’t see a report that was filed,” she said. “I just see the calls to service.”
Damico said the only information on file was about a wandering child, Hailey giving the school address to the officer and the officer taking her home.
While there is a record of police responding to the call about Hailey, there is no case ID associated with it, something that would normally be there, Damico said.
Bolhorst said the officer wouldn’t take a police report unless it was a criminal matter.
In Hailey’s case, she was found within a few hours.
“We just notified the school of what their [the officers] findings are,” he said.
“If it’s going on for several hours –– we will actually call our special victims unit,” Bolhorst added. “They will handle all matters with children.”