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School system defends busing mistake

November 30, 1999|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

A school bus driver who dropped a 5-year-old boy off two miles from his home Monday was not required to contact school officials before doing so, according to Washington County Public Schools officials.

Boyd Michael, assistant superintendent of school operations, said the driver recognized that Dustin Hammond, a kindergartner at Funkstown School for Early Education, did not normally ride that bus, but checked with two staff members before letting him on board.

The staff members told the driver that Dustin had a note to ride the bus home, which he normally did not do on Mondays, schools spokesman Will Kauffman said.

"He had a note, just not for that bus," Kauffman said.

Kauffman said Dustin was directed to the bus after a miscommunication between staff members.

Drivers are taught during training to call school officials from a phone mounted in the bus if they realize they are transporting a child who should not be on their bus, Michael said.

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The policy is not documented "but has been the standard for as long as I can remember," Michael said.

However, the unwritten policy did not apply in this case because the driver thought Dustin had a note to ride the bus, Michael said.

Michael said Dustin rode the wrong bus until the second-to-last stop, which was in the Saint James housing development along Sharpsburg Pike, before pointing to a cul-de-sac and telling the driver he lived there.

"The child said he lived there, and the driver used the closest stop," Michael said.

Dustin was found by a family acquaintance a quarter-mile up the road in the parking lot at Food Lion, according to his mother, Kendra Peacher, who said she disagreed with Michael's assessment of the events.

"He did not point and say 'I live there,'" said Peacher, who argued that a videotape of the stop shows Dustin telling the driver several times that he did not live in the neighborhood.

Michael said Friday he would not release the videotape "for the protection of the child and others." Video cameras are installed in every Washington County school bus.

Michael said the driver still was employed by Washington County Public Schools Friday, but would not say whether the person was driving a school bus.

Peacher said Friday the driver should be "suspended and eventually fired."

"You can see (the driver) asking Dustin where he lives and telling him, 'You'll have to walk,'" Peacher said. "This is where common sense comes into play."

School board members Donna Brightman, Paul Bailey and Ruth Anne Callaham said Friday that they were disturbed by the event.

"Although people make mistakes, this one is pretty scary," Callaham said.

Bailey and Brightman, who both said the board would discuss the matter during their meeting Tuesday, agreed.

"It's very unfortunate and, if the facts are straight, the young man was put at risk," Bailey said.

If Dustin had continued walking to his home in Cross Creek, he would have had to cross Sharpsburg Pike.

Brightman said school officials will look at policies and procedures to "ensure this doesn't happen again."

"As a board, we set the policies. The staff works out the protocols," Brightman said. "Maybe we need to look at both."

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