The first day of school usually comes with some headaches, but for two parents in Highlands County it was a nightmare.
When the school bus arrived Monday afternoon Melissa Morris was ready to get video of the children getting getting off the bus, ages five, six, and eight, but the children were not on the bus.
Morris told 8 On Your Side that the bus driver told her the had dropped the kids off already somewhere else.
“I said are you serious? They’re 5, 6 and 8 year old kids! He said I’m sorry it’s the first day. He said what street he thought they were on and just shut the door and left,” Morris said.
Morris said her husband left work and immediately started scouring the area near their home in Avon Park.
“The feeling I had in my stomach when I was searching for them, and knowing they were lost and I didn’t know where they were at, I had that feeling for three or four days,” John Fureigh said.
He found the children nearly three miles from their home sitting on the side of a dirt road, they claim for 50 minutes.
“They were all three bawling their eyes out, and their faces were beet red. They had sweat stains past their chest, all over their shirts were just completely drenched,” Fureigh said.
Transportation officials denied requests from 8 On Your Side for an interview.
The School Board of Highland County posted a statement on their Facebook page: “There has understandably been a large community response to a bus incident that occurred this week. Our investigation is ongoing and as such, our comments must be limited. There are transportation practices that should have assisted in resolving the incident quickly that were not exercised. As a result, the district has taken disciplinary actions, per the employee progressive disciplinary plan, including but not limited to driver retraining. The retraining has already been completed. Administration met with one of the parents the day after the incident and also provided time for a parent to review the on-board video. The video was helpful as it identified the transportation practices that were not followed during the incident. It was also helpful as there was the misperception that the children told the driver that it was not their stop but were directed to get off the bus anyway, and viewing the video showed that this did not happen. It is our responsibility to provide safe and reliable transportation for our students. We have privately apologized to the family and we do so publicly as well. We take this incident seriously and we will continue to work on improving our system and in the coming days update the community.”
The family wants the school district to put a safety plan in place before anything happens again.
“A safety system or at least a protocol to notify authorities as soon as you realize you misplaced a child,” Morris said. “I couldn’t get ahold of anyone. I couldn’t find out where the kids were left; nobody could, because transportation would not answer the phone. I was just being redirected, redirected and nobody had any answers for me.”