It's Willa Rickstad's first day back on the school bus. Her grandmother is keeping her fingers crossed that this trip goes smoothly. Last week the kindergartener from Westford had a terrifying experience.
"The bus driver left me here without an adult," said Willa, 5.
Willa's parents weren't going to be home. So they arranged for their daughter to be dropped off at a friend's house. Their note made it to the bus driver, but he didn't follow the instructions.
"When I came home and found her sitting on the porch crying and hyperventilating, I was beyond furious. It was just total neglect on the bus driver's part," mom Beth Rickstad said. "What if something more had happened? What if she had fallen or gotten hurt? Or she had wandered off?"
Rickstad says the school district has a policy that no child under the age of 10 is allowed to get off the bus without an adult to greet them. The associate superintendent says that's what the district strives for, but it's not set in stone.
"That's a practice that I think needs to be tightened and in this particular incident the need to tighten that practice has become obvious to us," said Judith DeNova, the associate superintendent of the Chittenden Central Supervisory Union.
She says the district and the bus company are both on the hook for getting kids home safely. And they need to work together to ensure that all parties are familiar with these guidelines. But she admits a mistake was made, and the experienced driver should have radioed the school to clear up the confusion before making the little girl get off.
"It is a very difficult situation and regrettable," DeNova said.
CCR Transportation is a family run business in Westford. We gave them the opportunity to explain what happened. They have not returned our calls or emails.
"I'd like to see him fired," Rickstad said. "I cannot believe that he is still driving a bus full of little kids."
Rickstad is not optimistic that will happen. The driver's parents own the bus company.
Reporter Jennifer Reading: Do you think disciplinary action is necessary in this case?
Judith DeNova: Yes, I do believe that disciplinary action is required... Regardless of whatever family relationship there is, there needs to be some level of accountability.
It's a black mark for CCR that the district says it will remember when it comes time to renew the company's contract.
The Vermont Department of Education says it does not advise schools on busing policies since the contracts are handled at the local level.
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