Parents outraged after local elementary school students dropped off at the wrong places

Posted at 10:45 PM, Sep 10, 2014

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich.--  Some parents in Muskegon Heights have recently gone into panic mode after their children didn't step off the bus after school.

Kids as young as five and six years old aren't making it to their stops.

Dean Transportation is the company that schools such as Edgewood Elementary use to get the kids to and from school.  The school has used this company for several years and says they have never had a problem. But this year there have been more than a couple incidents where kids didn't make it into their parents' arms.

"I was scared, I was very scared," said Malik Thompson, a second grader at Edgewood. Last Wednesday, Malik was dropped off on the other side of town instead of the stop just yards from his house. He has taken the bus for the last three years and has never had an incident like this.

"We got there at 4 p.m., and the bus came at 4:45 p.m., but my son wasn't on the bus," said Latora Thompson, Malik's mom.

Latora says last year the bus driver was caring and would never drop off Malik without knowing mom was there.  Parents received a schedule of the exact times and locations the buses were coming, and they were always on time, but Latora says this year, that's not the case.

"Immediately, I called the police, and my husband went looking for my son. It was very scary," she said.

Malik was supposed to be dropped off at East Grace Loftis Elementary school, right around the corner from his house, but he was dropped off 1.5 miles away at Martin Luther King Elementary.

Even though Malik knew it wasn't his stop, he said he had no choice but to get off. "The bus driver said we are stopping here, and you have to walk, so I just walked," he said.

Malik said the roads looked familiar, so he actually started walking in the right direction back to his house. But his mom was not happy that her son was walked all alone on busy streets.

"I thank God he had enough sense to know to come this way toward our house, because he remembered where his football practice is," said Latora.

FOX 17 News contacted the owner of Dean Transportation, Kelly Dean. He says safety is their number one priority, and they have been actively working with the school to figure out the issue. The superintendent of the district, Alena Zachary Ross, is aware of all the complaints coming in.

"It's not a surprise our parents are upset, and we are working on this," said Ross.

The school and Dean Transportation sent out a notice to all the families apologizing for the inconveniences, and announcing they were changing the pick-up and drop-off times for students.

Superintendent Ross says the three buses have worked in past years to service all the kids at Edgewood Elementary School, but there are more students this year since the closing of Martin Luther King Elementary, and that could be the problem.

The three buses used to transport all the children home are responsible for more students this year. The school agreed to push back their start time 30 minutes so the drivers have enough time to pick up and drop off all the students.

"I know we went down from four buildings to three, but we did not expect these problems would occur," she said.

Latora says she never received that notice. Also, she says, it's not an issue of time but vigilance.

"It's still happening. I need something to be done about it. Not just for my son, but for all our babies out there in Muskegon Heights," she said.

There was another incident just Tuesday night involving a special needs kindergarten student who is just five years old.

"That means you misplaced a child and didn't check," said Janay Sain, mother of the five-year-old who was not delivered to his stop. "Whoever was on the bus just didn't do their job, and it's lazy. They clearly aren't checking like they are supposed to."

Sain wasn't reunited with her son until 8 p.m. after she searched for nearly 4 hours.

"They didn't find him until he was all the way down at the bus depot where they check in the buses. How do you not see a child until you are checking in a bus? How?"

Sain says this is unacceptable and scary for a mother.

"He's a special needs child. He wouldn't have known where to go or that he missed his stop. He was scared and nervous. Anything could have happened to him," she said.

The school puts an escort on the bus to make sure kids are properly accounted for and dropped off at the right place, but the little kindergarten student slipped through the cracks.

"Misplacing a child is not like misplacing a backpack, toys, or shoes. This is misplacing a human being," Sain said.

Both moms agree their trust in the school transportation system is lost.

"It's ridiculous. We shouldn't have to go through this kind of stuff," Sain said.

Superintendent Ross says the school is working to implement new solutions so this doesn't happen again. "We have had instructional assistants that are making sure kids get to where they are going, and riding the bus with the kids."

Zolton Vines is one of the teachers on the buses. He works from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. to make sure the kids are getting to their right drop-off locations.

"I make sure there's a parent there or a guardian or somebody to get them inside safely," he said.

Malik didn't have a teacher on his bus, and Latora thinks the responsibility lies in the hands of the bus driver.

"If you are going to drop the kids off at the school, make sure there is someone there for them, whether its parents or a sibling.  Don't just drop them off, and then take off, because that's what's happening," she said.

Janay Sain and Latora Thompson have pulled their children from the bus program, and have opted to drop them off and pick them up themselves every day.