A Cape Breton woman believes school bus drivers should take care of the children in their charge rather than dump them in another community.
Stephanie MacPhee of Bridgeport said her 11-year old son Connor was abandoned by his bus driver two kilometres from home.
“I’m speaking out to warn other parents,” MacPhee said.
“My son was put out in another town, anything could have happened to him. I don’t want a lynch mob, I just don’t want anything to happen to any other kids.”
MacPhee said it all started November 1 when the bus driver pulled over at the bus stop near their home and, as her son went to get his things together before leaving the bus, the driver shut the door and continued on. Connor tried to yell to the bus driver but in the meantime the bus passed three more stops.
“My son has panic attacks, has anxiety, couldn’t get the bus driver’s attention,” MacPhee said. “He was trying to tell the bus driver he had missed his stop but the driver wasn’t listening to him.”
Finally the bus pulled into the former MacDonald Elementary School property in Dominion, the last stop.
“The driver said, ‘Get off here or you’re going to be on the bus for the night,'” she said.
“He put him out there.”
To add to it all, MacPhee said her son doesn’t have time to get to his locker after school and carries every book in his backpack.
“It probably weighs 40 pounds,” she said. “Here he is walking in the rain, bawling his eyes out, trying to carry his backpack.”
Connor said after accidentally missing his stop he couldn’t get the driver’s attention and ended up quite far from home.
“He yelled at me,” Connor said, adding he was told to get out or have to stay on the bus.
Not feeling he had much choice, Connor said he got off and began walking but was upset as he was a long way from home. When asked if he was scared or worried, he said, ‘Both.”
“I knew where I was going (but) it was just so far of a walk,” he said. “I didn’t know when I’d get home.”
Meanwhile, Stacy Turnbull of Dominion was driving along Main Street with one of her sons on when she saw a young boy walking near Park Street.
“He looked like he was crying,” she said.
Turnbull’s son recognized the boy, so she turned around. Then recognizing him herself, she knew he was quite a distance from his home.
“It was chilly out that day and he was obviously upset, visibly shaken,” Turnbull said.
“He said he missed his stop and the bus driver made him get out up there.”
Turnbull one of her worries was his mother would be worried when he didn’t get off the bus.
“I know if that was to happen to one of my sons, I’d hope someone would do it for me.”
Meanwhile MacPhee was panicking when her son didn’t get off the bus and trying to find out where he was, when Turnbull pulled up.
“I’m really grateful to Stacy for stopping and driving him home,” she said.
MacPhee called the Cape Breton Victoria-Regional Centre for Education and was told they were going to suggest the bus driver apologize to her son.
“Well, I refuse to put him on the bus until he does apologize,” she said. “I want my son to see everyone makes mistakes but you’re accountable for them.”
On Monday she contacted the centre again and was told the bus driver was refusing to apologize because he didn’t feel he did anything wrong.
MacPhee said her son doesn’t want to go on that bus anymore.
“He’s scared of it,” MacPhee said. “That man is supposed to be in charge of getting our children home safe, not putting them off in the next town where I wouldn’t even know to go to look for them.”
MacPhee said when a child misses their bus stop the protocol is for the bus driver to take the child to the school and the school will call the parents to come and get them.
“Anything could have happened to my son left stranded like that.”
Upset, MacPhee went to Glace Bay MLA Geoff MacLellan’s office. MacLellan’s office checked into it and told her the CBVRCE is investigating the incident.
“That’s after I was told an hour prior it was over with, the bus driver wasn’t going to apologize and there’s nothing they can do.”
MacPhee said her son will take the bus in the morning as it’s a different driver but he won’t take the bus home, so she has to pick him up every day.
However MacPhee said there are good bus drivers, including another who went above and beyond the call of duty.
On Tuesday, MacPhee said, ironically enough another one of her sons fell asleep on a different school bus. MacPhee went into another panic. However the bus driver turned around and drove him right back to his street.
“That’s his job to make sure my children get home safe and he did (make sure of that).“
Michelle MacLeod, spokesperson for the CBVRCE said they focus on providing a safe environment for the students whether in school or being transported to and from school.
“It is concerning to hear that a student was put off the bus at the wrong stop,” MacLeod said, in an email response to a request for comment.
“We are reviewing the incident to ensure that all policies and protocols were followed and to ensure such incidents are addressed appropriately.”