More than a week after a Goleta child was forgotten in a school bus and left alone for several hours in a bus yard, Goleta Union School District officials are still trying to figure out how it happened.
The incident occurred July 6 when a student was supposed to be transported in the morning from home to summer school via a Goleta district bus.
Mirna Ramirez told KEYT News that she put her 4-year-old son, Emilio Garcia, on the bus at 7:35 a.m.
The boy, who was born with a medical condition that caused brain damage, recently started riding the bus to summer school, which started on June 22, according to Ramirez.
He was heading to Kellogg School where he attends special needs classes twice a week. But, that Monday, he never made it.
According to the district, Emilio didn’t get off the bus at school and remained onboard for “several hours” after the vehicle was returned to the district’s transportation department yard in the Goleta Valley Community Center back parking lot.
“Upon discovering that the student was on the bus, the district immediately contacted the paramedics who arrived, accessed the student and determined that the student did not require any treatment,” Goleta Union Superintendent Bill Banning said in a statement. “The student’s mother then took the student home.”
A thorough investigation into the incident was still under way this week, Banning said, including a review of current transportation department and school site protocols for dropping off and picking up students who ride the bus at the district’s 10 schools.
Due to the ongoing investigation, Banning said he couldn’t say whether the bus driver was still transporting students to either of two summer school sites.
“We are looking at certainly the bus driver’s responsibility, and we are looking at other protocols related to reporting absences and things like that,” Banning told Noozhawk. “We have practices in place that absolutely should’ve prevented this. We’re taking it very seriously.”
Bus-riding protocols are the same in the summer as the regular school year — drivers make sure they clear their buses, teachers or aids typically meet students at the drop-off and the school will communicate with parents about any reported absences, Banning said.
For whatever reason, nobody noticed that Emilio was still in his seat.
Banning wouldn’t confirm the child’s age or other details, including whether he was a special-needs student, for privacy reasons.
The oversight is more surprising considering Banning said special-needs students are usually assigned an aid to keep track of their arrival.
Likewise in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, it’s often school staff that first notices a student hasn’t arrived, according to district spokeswoman Barbara Keyani, who said she couldn’t remember a similar incident happening.
“It’s not often, but we have had incidents where a child leaves the school bus at a different stop, perhaps with a friend or after deciding to walk home,” Keyani said. “When that happens, the school works closely with the family, the bus company (Student Transportation of America) and the district office.
“Friends of the student may be contacted. Depending on the situation, law enforcement may be notified.”
Banning said the Goleta district remains committed to ensuring the safety of every child, and he encouraged anyone with information about the recent incident to contact his office.
His hope is that Goleta Union develops even stronger bus rider safety policies.
“It’s very fortunate that the child is OK; the child is fine,” Banning said. “That doesn’t make the incident any less serious in our eyes.”
Emilio’s parents told KEYT they will drive him to school from now on.