A Baltimore County school bus driver and an attendant were suspended from their jobs for five days without pay yesterday, a day after a 3-year-old boy was left alone on a bus in a storage yard for about four hours.
"When I heard about this, my heart just sank," said Rita Fromm, director of transportation for the school system. "I can't imagine how it could happen. The thought about what could have happened to that youngster, well, my heart sank."
Fromm said she regularly reminds school bus drivers -- with newsletters and other notices -- to make "post-trip inspections."
"I have never had a school bus driver in my office who said, `I didn't know,' " she said. "It's part of our basic training."
The driver, Louise N. McLean, 57, of Glen Arm and the attendant, Elisabeth Linde, 64, of Perry Hall apparently failed to complete such a search Tuesday, leaving 3-year-old Malik S. Lucas alone in a locked bus at a gated yard near Kenwood High School in eastern Baltimore County, Fromm said.
Fromm interviewed McLean and Linde yesterday. The five-day suspension is standard punishment for failing to check a bus for students or possessions at the end of a trip, she said.
Attempts to reach McLean and Linde for comment were unsuccessful.
Baltimore County police have turned over investigation of the incident to the county Department of Social Services.
Malik's mother, Nicole T. Lucas of the Hillendale area, said she became worried Tuesday when her son failed to return home from his prekindergarten classes at the Halstead Academy elementary school near Hillendale. Malik has a speech impediment that makes it difficult for him to communicate, she said.
Lucas sent the boy's father, Ben T. Wilkins, to Halstead to look for Malik. School administrators told Wilkins that Malik had not come to school.
"But he did. We put him on the bus," Lucas said yesterday.
At about 12: 50 p.m. Tuesday, a school employee found Malik, asleep, with a soiled diaper, in a locked bus at the Kenwood yard, on a day when temperatures barely reached the mid-20s. The yard is about a 10-mile drive from the Halstead school.
The employee drove Malik back to Halstead, where he was examined by a school nurse and paramedics. Later, Lucas took her son to a hospital for another exam, she said. "I had to. I mean, he was on that bus without any food," Lucas said.
Yesterday, Malik seemed to be doing fine. He attended classes at Halstead but refused to ride the bus, said Lucas, adding that she no longer trusts school bus drivers. "I am very angry," she said. "I can't express the anger and pain all this has caused me. I could have just as well let him walk to school if that was the kind of treatment he was going to get."