Fort Worth

5-year-old special-needs child left on bus for 7 hours in Fort Worth school district

A kindergartner with special needs was accidentally left unattended on a bus for five hours on Oct. 15, the Fort Worth School District said.

An attendant and bus driver did not realize the 5-year-old child did not get off on the first stop of the day at 7 a.m., and instead remained on board until 2:45 p.m., Fort Worth School District spokesman Clint Bond said.

The child was strapped into a seat on a special-education bus at about 7 a.m. on Oct. 15, Bond said. At 7:35 a.m., the bus stopped at Lowry Road Elementary, where the attendant should have unstrapped the child so the child could get off the bus.

Instead, the attendant remained in her seat and the bus continued to make its usual run for middle school and high school students.

When the bus reached its last stop at about 8:55 a.m., Bond said, the attendant did a routine check of the bus. She walked to the back of the bus and pressed a button which records someone checked the entire bus.

“For some reason, she did not see the child in the seat. He was three rows behind the driver as the attendant was walking through the bus, and the driver was looking in the rearview mirror advising her to make sure she looked for trash and stuff,” Bond said. “She pushed the button and walked straight back to the front of the bus.”

At about 9:18 a.m., the driver dropped the bus off at a parking lot, collected her things and left the bus.

“All this time, the child — who again is very small — you can’t see him even from the camera from the ceiling, you can only see the tiniest bit of his hair on his head,” Bond said. “No one saw him still in there.”

The child stayed on the bus unattended from 9:20 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.

At 2:18 p.m., the driver went back to the bus and sat down. Bond said she may have been listening to music and had her head down until about 2:45 p.m.

“She suddenly turned and looked to the back of the bus, later describing that she thought she heard a cough or another noise and was thinking there might have been a raccoon or something in there,” Bond said. “She walked several seats back and saw the child, immediately came back to the driver’s seat, drove the bus near the mechanic shop and called someone to come out for an emergency.”

Bond said the child was reunited with his parents and was physically unharmed.

“The driver was very distraught, she was crying, she was beside herself, because the child was on the bus unattended from 9:20 to 2:18, still restrained in the seat, he couldn’t get up and walk around,” Bond said.

The bus driver, who has been with FWISD for 21 years, and the attendant, who has been working at FWISD for seven years, were given the option to be fired or resign after the investigation was complete. They both voluntarily resigned.

Child Protective Services may be recommending charges against the driver and attendant, Bond said.

“The family was very upset as you might understand. Some of our administrators immediately visited with them that day and even as recently as today,” Bond said.

Bond said in his 12 years with the district, he cannot recall anything like this happening before.

On Friday, the Fort Worth ISD Special Education PTA issued a statement about the child being left on the bus.

“We are grateful that the child was physically unharmed, despite being strapped in a seat with no food or water in an unheated bus on a stormy day when the high was in the 40s,” the statement, signed by President Rodney Wade, said. “Our thoughts are with the child and family as we work toward meaningful change at our schools.”

Kaley Johnson: 817-390-7028, @KaleyJohnson6