For the first time in a week, 4-year-old Richy Hanzelka mustered the courage yesterday to get on the school bus all by himself.
His fear was understandable. A week before, when little Richy fell asleep on the bus, nobody noticed -- and he remained there more than three hours, screaming and crying.
Richy's horrifying experience began when he and his 3-year-old brother, Craig, were picked up by the school bus at their Edgewood home at noon and taken to Joppatowne Elementary School for a preschool speech class. But by the time the bus arrived at school, Richy had fallen asleep. And the attendant responsible for the children's safety failed to check that everyone had gotten off the bus, as required under Harford County school system regulations.
The bus, driven by a substitute driver, returned to a school bus compound near Edgewood High School, where another bus driver heard Richy's cries and found him sitting on the bus, a seat belt buckled around his waist.
Yesterday, the boy's mother, Janette Hanzelka, said she plans to challenge a school system decision to allow the attendant to continue working on the bus. "I don't want her to lose her job, but she's not qualified to work with young children," Mrs. Hanzelka said.
"This is still very upsetting. Thank God he [Richy] had the sense to stay on the bus, or he could have been run over by another bus."
The attendant and the bus driver have been disciplined and warned that they could lose their jobs should any similar lapses occur, said Paul Welsh, supervisor of transportation for Harford County public schools.
Mr. Welsh refused to identify the attendant or the driver or elaborate, calling the school system's response to the incident a personnel matter.
"We are very concerned that this kind of incident could have occurred, and we immediately took the necessary action to make sure the child was returned home safely," said Mr. Welsh.
He added that county school buses cover 25,000 miles daily in Harford County, transporting 28,000 students, and it's a "rare occasion" when a child gets left behind. He said it has been two years since a similar problem was reported but gave no details.
Mrs. Hanzelka identified the attendant as Marilyn Elliott of Edgewood and said Ms. Elliott had served as the attendant since at least last school year, when Richy rode the same bus.
A man who answered the phone at Ms. Elliott's home last night and identified himself as her father confirmed that she worked as an attendant on the bus but said she was not home.
Yesterday, soon after the bus took him home, Richy recalled his frightening ordeal. Clutching a trophy his parents gave him as a reward for staying on the bus throughout the incident, he said, "I was really scared."