Boston busing crisis
It was nudged to the corner of yesterday’s Globe Metro front by the all-important history of a decade of worth of wagers between Tom Menino and various mayors over whose team will prevail in assorted sports championship battles. And, truth be told, once your eye caught the headline, “Pupil, 6, dropped off at wrong bus stop,” it was easy to pass off the piece as a recurring storyline that seems to pop up every half year or so.
Pause to consider, however, not just what happened last month to 6-year-old Sammy Aaron, but what happened — or, more precisely, didn’t happen — afterwards and it ought stir outrage in any parent.
With his mother’s work schedule having shifted, Aaron, a kindergartner at the Mather Elementary School in Dorchester, was slated to take the school bus home for first time on Jan. 4, the first day back after winter vacation. Though the school had introduced the driver to Sammy and made sure she knew his stop, he mistakenly got off at an earlier stop; according to the story, the driver had been distracted by an incident taking place on the bus.
Fifteen minutes after Sammy’s bus was due at the stop where his mother, Jennifer Smith, was waiting, her cell phone rang and it was stranger who had found Sammy wandering alone near Franklin Park, half a mile from the spot where he mistakenly got off the bus. They arranged to meet at a nearby fire station, where mother and crying 6-year-old were reunited.
If that chapter ended happily, the same cannot be said for the one detailing how the Boston public schools handled the serious error. Smith’s repeated calls to school transportation officials went unreturned. A week later, after a parent who heard about the incident emailed a Globe reporter and told school officials she had done so, Smith got a voicemail from the school department’s transportation director, Michael Hughes, who said the driver would be disciplined and promised to call her back. Though she tried unsuccessfully to reach Hughes herself two times, Smith says he didn’t call again for weeks — until a reporter had begun asking school officials about the incident.
A Boston public schools spokesman tells the Globe the driver’s error and the school department’s handling of it were “an unacceptable situation.” But the only action that appears to have been taken was a one or two day suspension of the driver (it’s not clear why there is uncertainty about its length) and a two-hour training session for her to review bus procedures.
How could a modestly-paid bus driver for the company that contracts with the Boston schools face disciplinary action, while the dysfunctional bureaucracy at the school department that ignored repeated calls for attention to what could have been a life-threatening disaster goes untouched? Shouldn’t the manager in charge of transportation, who was in the middle of the indifferent reaction to the events, ultimately bear more responsibility than the driver?
It’s easy to wonder whether such shabby treatment of a family — with no consequences for those in the municipal chain of command — would have taken place had this occurred in a well-heeled suburb. It’s a question someone ought to put to the school superintendent and mayor.
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