Misplaced child prompts reassessment of Purdy system

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Superintendent admits to mistakes, promises to do better

On the second day of school in Purdy last week, the school district faced one of those nightmare situations that all educators dread-- losing track of a child on the way home from school.

Superintendent Steven Chancellor vowed the district would take steps to improve its response, and that he fully appreciated the anger of the parents involved.

According to father Josť Perez, his five-year-old daughter, Carla, went home on the bus. She was supposed to get off at a different stop and stay with a sitter, as both her parents work. Carla rejected the appeals of others getting off at that stop and stayed on the bus.

She got off at her home stop with three others. Going home to an empty house, Carla thought someone would join her soon, but did not. After a while, she felt something was amiss and went to her neighbor's home, asking her to call her father. The neighbor did not have Perez's number, nor did the girl. Instead, the neighbor invited her in to sit with her children, figuring the situation would sort itself out shortly.

In the meantime, the sitter, when she did not see Carla, tried to follow the bus. Losing it, she called the school and ended up on the phone with the nurse, who alerted Principal Janet Boys. That triggered a search.

A contingent from the school arrived at Carla's house. The neighbor saw the commotion, went out to find out what was going on, and revealed Carla was with her. Boys said the child should be with family, and took her to her grandmother.

Word traveled back through channels that Carla had been found. No one from the school called Perez or the child's mother to tell them of the situation. Perez went to the school personally to express his dissatisfaction with how the situation was handled, though he praised Boys for her personal involvement in the search.

"As soon as we realized what had happened, we had four or five people doing different things," said Superintendent Steven Chancellor. "We focused on finding the child first. We forgot to make the last call to say all was fine. We knew the parents were at work.

"I totally get it [that the father is angry]. We obviously don't have a system designed to lose kids. We have to own it, and say we screwed up. Can we do better? You bet."

Chancellor said he wished he had been the first person to talk to Perez when he arrived, instead of the last. He told Perez he had children the same age as Carla, and was not sure they could have done as well as she did in that situation.

Perez was particularly critical of the bus driver for not tracking his charges better, especially for not responding to the head count at each stop when it did not match what was expected. He felt problems like this happen every year in the Purdy district. His neighbor now has his phone number.

Chancellor observed every bus driver has a roster and a list of stops, though that sometimes changes. In Carla's case, every other day she is supposed to get off at the sitter's stop.

"A bus driver has a hard job, especially at the beginning of school," Chancellor said. "It's easy to say a bus driver should know every kid. In a small district, we're fortunate to know the names and the faces of the children. Mr. Perez had some good ideas on how to prevent problems in the future. We can put something in place with a name and drop-off with the students, and maybe add a parent phone number.

"We regret what happened. We want to start talking about situations like this. We all need backup plans. Our plan for bus riders who don't get off at the right stop is to bring them back to the school, even if it may be a bit inconvenient. We want parents to trust us. We have to pay attention. We will pay attention. This will be a talk I will have with my own children."

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