Panicked parents furious with school board

Dave Stewart
Published on July 10, 2014

Austin, 7 and Keirstin Rodgers, 9, of Tracadie were dropped off from a summer program and left alone by a bus driver last week.

©Photo Special to The Guardian

Martin Rodgers of Tracadie said he got the scare of his life last Friday.

Rodgers arrived at Sherwood Elementary School in Charlottetown to find his two children, 7 and 9 years old, crying.

They had spent the day in the Canadian Red Cross’s week-long swim program. He arrived at 4:12 p.m., expecting to be early for the scheduled 4:20 p.m. drop off.

He pulled into the parking lot and saw his kids under a tree by themselves, seeking shade from the hot day. They are crying.

Rodgers said the bus driver dropped them off, told them to find some shade under a tree and left them there alone. They were the only children that were dropped off at Sherwood school. The other children on the bus would have been transported to other drop-off locations.

No one knows how long the two young children were left alone but the English Language School Board said it wouldn’t have been more than 10 minutes.

“I was scared,’’ Rodgers said in an interview on Wednesday. “I’ve never been so scared and so mad at the same time in my life.’’

Scared because of what could have happened, he said. Two young children left alone in an unfamiliar setting.

Nicole Rodgers, Martin’s wife, said a million things went through her head when he called and told her what happened.

“Anything could have happened,’’ Nicole said. “There are predators out there. A school parking lot is the perfect place to pick up two kids, especially when you see them crying and scared. When he filled me in on what happened I was shaking. They could have been abducted, I might never have seen them again. Everything goes through your head.’’

Nicole said her daughter told her they were scared and that she didn’t know what to do — stay in an empty parking lot or seek help from neighbours in the area.

Martin and Nicole said there’s no excuse for a bus driver to drop two young children off without making sure someone was there to pick them up.

Jim Cummings, director of corporate services for the English Language School Board, said on Friday the bus was running a little early.

“The driver indicated the students were dropped off at Sherwood school in a safe location,’’ Cummings said. “The parents were going to be there to pick them up. It was less than 10 minutes. It was deemed to be a safe drop-off location.’’

Cummings said the school board is in ongoing talks with the Red Cross, which contracted the school buses, to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again.

Martin and Nicole want the bus driver disciplined but Cummings would not comment on the matter.

“That would be an internal issue. We don’t get into discussing that type of thing,’’ Cummings said.

Laura Montigny, provincial director for the P.E.I. branch of the Canadian Red Cross, said an incident report was filed immediately.

“We are certainly looking at steps to take and this is never going to happen again,’’ Montigny said.

The Red Cross is talking to the school board about potential changes to that effect. A new policy could see parents told to be at the pickup/dropoff locations at least 30 minutes ahead of time (current policy is 10 minutes), Red Cross staff, which are on the buses for the first few days would be required to accompany the kids the entire week and if the bus driver notices there is no one there to pick up children, he or she is to call a Red Cross staff member right away.

Montigny said the bus driver in this incident did call but didn’t call when he should have. Martin and Nicole contend that phone call never happened.

Montigny said she spoke with Martin on Friday about the incident and has met with the couple since then.

The school board offered to have the bus driver apologize but Martin said he isn’t interested in an apology and declined the offer.

“He put my kids’ lives in danger,’’ Martin Rodgers said.

Montigny said both the Red Cross and the school board is taking this incident very seriously.

“It will never happen again,’’ she said emphatically.