2-year-old special needs boy stuck on school bus for nearly 2 hours

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Another mom of a special needs child in the Deer Valley Unified School District says confusion and communication problems surrounding her 2-year-old’s bus ride home left her fearing the worst, and kept her son stuck on a school bus nearly two hours past his drop-off time.

In Kristen Sollom's case, her son's bus driver got lost while trying to find their home. A district spokesperson called the delay "extremely rare" and said it was likely the longest in more than a decade.

"This was traumatizing for my son," Sollom said. "He wears glasses and he had broken the strap to try to pull his glasses off to wipe his tears, and that was heartbreaking to see."

The experience March 29 was also traumatizing for Sollom, who said for the first 90 minutes, she was unable to reach transportation dispatchers and unable to confirm with employees at Mountain Shadows Elementary School if her son was safe.

"I pictured working with the police. An amber alert. I pictured doing a press conference, pleading with whoever kidnapped my son, pleading with him to bring him back," she said.

[RELATED: Deer Valley Unified to review procedures after school bus mix-up with special needs boy]

Sollom said she felt compelled to speak out after seeing our report on another mom in the district who frantically called 911 this week when school and transportation officials were unable to confirm the location of her 4-year-old son with special needs. In that case, transportation workers were able to bring the boy home about 30 minutes past his drop-off time.

The issues that prompted the two school bus troubles differ, but in both cases parents complained that school and transportation employees were slow to confirm their children were safe. They also noted that substitute employees unfamiliar with the bus routes could have been better prepared.

Monica Allread, the director of communications for the district, said substitute bus drivers and on-board aides undergo the same training, vetting, and certifications as the employees who are regularly assigned to routes.

She said the district delivers 8,000 students every day, 180 days a year, "so this kind of thing is really, really rare."

The substitute driver and on-board aide became lost when trying to find Sollom's apartment because certain streets and buildings were not marked, she said.

"Being lost in a neighborhood seems like such an old-fashioned problem because we all pull out our smartphones and use a navigational app to get where we're going, but that's against the law on a school bus," Allread said.

Instead, drivers must rely on paper maps and written directions, and in this case those proved to be unhelpful, Allread said. The maps have since been updated as a result of the incident, she said.

State law would allow the on-board aide to use a cell phone, Allread said, but the district still forbids cell phone use as a matter of policy "because it distracts the aides from watching the children on the bus."

Allread said the district has a policy to notify parents when their child's bus will be more than 30 minutes late, but she said that policy was not adhered to in Sollom's case.

When asked if the district would strive to improve on that, she responded, "Absolutely. Absolutely." 

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