School bus drivers warned

Firings threatened as 3rd child is left alone

February 23, 2000|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County schools Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione said yesterday that he would fire bus drivers and attendants who fail to check their buses for children at the end of the trip -- an announcement made the same day the third child in less than six weeks was left alone on a county school bus.

"The events of the past few weeks have been very distressing to all of us," Marchione said at a Board of Education meeting. "I'm as upset as anyone can be. I have grandchildren in this school system, and I wouldn't want to have them left on a bus."

Marchione's action -- which he said could apply to any of the recent incidents -- follows last week's tongue-lashing of transportation chief Rita Fromm by state legislators, who are considering transferring control of the school bus system to the county.

Yesterday morning, an 8-year-old boy was left alone on a school bus for several minutes after his bus driver failed to stop at Glenmar Elementary school in Middle River, said school system spokesman Charles A. Herndon.

The bus driver apparently failed to check the bus for children when she returned to the Hopkins Landing bus lot in Middle River, Herndon said. When the boy realized he was left alone, he left the bus. Another bus driver at the lot noticed the boy and alerted supervisors.

The boy, who was not identified by officials, was returned to Glenmar by 9: 15 a.m., Herndon said. He was unharmed, and his parents were notified of the incident.

Last week, Vance Parks, 4, of Rosedale, a pupil at Red House Run Elementary School, was left on a bus for about 15 minutes. Last month, Malik Lucas, a preschool 3-year-old pupil at Halstead Academy near Hillendale, was left on a bus for about four hours.

"There are no excuses," said Oscar Parks, 34, of Rosedale, the father of Vance Parks, who attended yesterday's board meeting.

Also attending the meeting was Debbie Collins, 44, of Jacksonville, whose daughter, Elyce, 14, who has cerebral palsy, was left on a Baltimore County bus for about five hours in 1989.

"When I think about all the what-ifs I get extremely angry," she said. "What if these bus lots are not secured? What if some slightly off person realized that a child was on a bus?"

Despite Baltimore County school officials' tough new rule, lawmakers aren't appeased.

Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, the Baltimore County Democrat who scolded Fromm at a hearing in Annapolis last week, was incredulous yesterday that another incident had occurred.

"My first response was somebody is playing a very bad joke. What do you say?" Bromwell said. "We're not talking about leaving book bags and lunch boxes on buses. We're talking about living, breathing children."

Dissatisfied with the response they received from Fromm last week, Bromwell said, lawmakers are drafting legislation that would take the operation of the bus system from the school board and hand the responsibility to the county government.

Under the move, the bus drivers and their routes would remain the same, Bromwell said, but accountability would improve.

"Somebody has to take control," he said. "I would have to believe that after the first time, county government would have fired these people, and it wouldn't have happened the second and third time."

Sen. Michael J. Collins, an Essex Democrat, said he asked for staffers to draft a law stripping the school system of its transportation responsibility shortly after learning about yesterday's incident.

"I haven't even talked to the county executive about that yet," Collins said. "We want the system to work for the children of Baltimore County better."

Marchione said he doubts the senators' proposals would work because the bus system is too closely tied to school schedules, which are set by school administrators. It would be too confusing to mix a school function with county government, he said.

At the meeting yesterday, Fromm outlined proposals to make sure another child isn't abandoned on a bus.

Fromm said she may place supervisors at all bus lots whose responsibility would be to check buses for children after bus drivers and attendants park.

Bus drivers who don't park at bus lots could be asked to call to verify that they checked their buses. Bus drivers making night runs would be required to page a supervisor.

"If we don't hear from them, we will call them," she said.

Fromm also wants to add buzzers to all buses that would sound when the bus engine is turned off. Bus drivers would be required to walk to the back of the bus to turn the buzzer off. "The alarms would force a post-trip inspection," she said.

Sun staff writer David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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