A Lakeland mother is demanding accountability from Polk County Schools after her son with autism was forced off a school bus miles from his actual stop.
April Scheehle is asking the district to let her view video footage from the bus to see what happened for herself. So far, she says that has not happened.
Last Thursday, Scheehle says she was beyond infuriated to learn that bus staff demanded 16-year-old Chase get off the bus nearly four miles away from home.
It was his first time riding the bus home. Scheehle says her son suffers from anxiety and can struggle in social situations.
“This was his biggest fear, getting off somewhere and not knowing where he was at,” she said. “It’s ridiculous that it happened, and it shouldn’t have.”
Chase tells 8 On Your Side he tried to tell bus staff they were wrong, even showing them a form clearly stating where he is supposed to get dropped off.
“The one thing that I remember most clearly is she said to me ‘you’re either going to have to walk from here or you’re going to have to call someone to come get you,'” Chase explained.
A Polk County Schools spokesperson says it was a substitute driver not familiar with the route. However, Scheehle points out this is not an isolated incident.
Last month, 8 On Your Side told you about a Lakeland student, just 6-years-old, forced to hitchhike home after his bus driver dropped him at the wrong stop.
Earlier this year, Polk Schools voted to drop the high school diploma or GED requirement for bus drivers, in light of a driver shortage. However, the district maintains drivers still must undergo extensive training.
“They knew what they were doing, they knew it was wrong, and they made the choice to do it anyway,” Scheehle said.
Because of her job, Scheehle says her son has no choice but to keep riding the bus. All she hopes is that the district will learn from its mistake.
“We need to be able to trust these people with our children,” she said.
The district says the substitute driver in this case is on paid leave pending an internal investigation.
FULL STATEMENT (dated 11/2):
A student was dropped off at an incorrect bus stop yesterday afternoon. The student was approximately 3.6 miles away from his home.
A substitute bus driver unfamiliar with that route was covering for the normal bus driver. This student was also a new bus rider getting familiar with his bus stop.
Our transportation department is reviewing the situation to determine whether policies and procedures were followed. The substitute driver is being placed on administrative leave with pay pending our review.
We apologize for the distress caused to this student and his family, and we are glad that he is safe. We transport tens of thousands of students each day, and we take the safety of each student seriously.
Our director of Transportation Operations will be reaching out to the student’s family.