Nearly one week ago, a 5-year-old who attends Webb Elementary spent almost five hours locked on a school bus, unbeknownst to anyone.
To his family’s relief, he was found safe and sound.
As soon as it was discovered by the mother of Jaiden Lakes that he was in fact, not present at school last Thursday, her wheels, and those of several others started turning.
Jacqueline Lakes, Jaiden’s grandmother, said that Thursday started out like any other day — her daughter got Jaiden and his younger sibling dressed and ready for school and headed to the bus stop.
“She always calls me when they’re waiting on the bus and facetimes me so I can see them off to school so about 7:30 (a.m.), she walked him to the bus and she put him on the first seat of the bus,” Lakes said, noting the bus would normally run around 7:10 a.m. The bus was running late that day.
After getting her two little ones off to school, Lakes said her daughter headed to work around 10 a.m.
“Around 12:30 p.m., her boss asked her to stay later, so she texted the teacher to put him on the daycare bus instead of the regular bus because no one was going to be at home,” Lakes recalled.
After the teacher responded, “Jaiden is not at school,” Lakes said the teacher immediately informed the principal of the situation.
Family members of Lakes began checking the house and checking with the schools while one of the daycare workers checked the bus barn.
Lakes said she was told to brace herself because Jaiden was missing, but it wouldn’t be long before they located him.
The daycare worker and Lakes’ daughter waited for the bus barn supervisor to arrive and check the bus that Jaiden had gotten on that morning.
“A few minutes later, I’d say about 1:15 (p.m.), she texted me and said, “We got him,”” Lakes said.
At that moment, Jaiden’s family realized he’d been left on the bus and learned that the driver had failed to follow the proper protocols as it pertains to completing bus routes.
Greenville Public School District Superintendent Debra Dace stated following the incident that the district is in the midst of a full internal investigation as it takes such matters very seriously.
“We are working in conjunction with the child’s parents, our administrative team, and support staff to ensure that proper steps are taken moving forward,” she further stated, stressing that the safety and well-being of all GPSD students is the district’s number one concern.
Dace added, “As a district, GPSD will continue to review current procedures to ensure and prevent this type of incident from occurring again.”
“With speaking to the superintendent, she said protocol was not followed because I kept asking, “What are your protocols once they get off the bus and they’re done with their route?”” Lakes shared. “She said they are to walk the bus and even with COVID-19 going on right now, they are to sanitize and wipe down every seat on the bus before they start another ride.”
Lakes said in a conversation with Jonathan Tillman — School Transportation Administrator for the Mississippi Department of Education — she was given an overview of the protocols bus drivers are to follow on a state and local level and learned there were “four different occasions” in which the driver should have checked the bus.
“He said when the drivers pull up to a stop, they are to count the students getting on the bus and they’re supposed to keep tabs on the students that they have on the bus. When they get to the school, they are supposed to count off the students they have counted on, so, if you counted on five kids for elementary and you only let four off, then you are to get up and walk your bus to see where that other child is before you leave the school,” she said.
Lakes referred to parking the bus at the bus barn as another opportunity to check the bus as protocol requires drivers to walk the bus to ensure no items are left on the bus.
“So none of this was done because my grand baby was left on the bus,” Lakes said, adding that she could tell after he was located he was distraught and had cried himself to sleep.
Although he kept saying “I’m ok,” Lakes said she could tell in his voice that he was still frightened.
“I think he felt that he was in trouble. My daughter puts him on the first seat everyday and the principal verified that,” she said, prompting her to wonder why he did not remain on the front seat. “My grandson stated that the bus driver told him to go to the back, sit down, be quiet and don’t move, so that’s what he did.”
Not fully grasping why her grandson did not leave the bus with the rest of the students initially, it soon became apparent to Lakes why Jaiden remained in his seat.
“I wasn’t understanding right then, but I had a talk with him before school started because I don’t live with him. But I told him, “When a grown person tells you to do something, you do what they say do and come home and tell us,”” she recalled. “He wanted to ensure me that he behaved and obeyed what the adult told him to do.”
Lakes said her grandson was waiting on permission to get off of the bus when the other students were dropped off, and therefore, did not move.
“I don’t know what state of mind he’s in, but I can only imagine,” Lakes shared. “That hurt because that’s a lot for a child to take, he felt like he was in trouble.”
What she wants now is peace of mind for her grandson and to be ensured that moving forward, an experience such as the one Jaiden had will not happen again.
“This could’ve went totally different,” Lakes pointed out, “The question that needs to be asked is why was he at the back of the bus?”
She added, “I want them held accountable because if I do something wrong, I’m going to be the first to admit I did something wrong and I’m going to put something in place to make sure that never happens again.”
GPSD board president Jan Vaughn said in a statement, “In an effort to work through this unfortunate incident, the parent has been afforded the opportunity to come before the board at our next regular board meeting, September 28. Pending the outcome of the superintendent’s investigation, the GPSD Board of Trustees will review corrective actions and recommendations to determine a final outcome.”
Vaughn further stated, “The work of the board will be tasked with developing any new policies that may be needed and reviewing current policies to ensure safeguards are in place to make sure that incidents of this nature never happen again. This allegation is most certainly an oversight that cannot happen again. One of the district’s four goals is to promote safe and healthy schools and we acknowledge and regret the pain of this family as a result of this alleged incident.”