A Lantana family is upset after they say a charter bus drove off after returning from a field trip with their special needs son still on board.
“I was really tired,” said 9-year-old Gage Dery.
Parents Jennifer and Leslie Dery were horrified Friday night, when their son's charter bus took off after a field trip to St. Augustine. Gage was sleeping in the back.
“It felt like a long time but it was minutes,” said Jennifer.
Leslie says he feared the worst for his son, who is on the autism spectrum.
“I didn't even know if he was on there,” explained Leslie. “There was 30-45 seconds of is my kid even on the bus or is he still in St. Augustine.”
The Derys say when they arrived at Lantana Elementary to pick up their son, no one knew where he was.
“The principal all of a sudden starts running because the bus just left,” recalled Jennifer. Leslie, added, “I jumped in the car, I stopped [the bus driver] and then pretty much he pulled over. I yelled, ‘Open the doors. My kid’s on the bus,’ and he turned the lights on and right away we saw Gage pop-up. I couldn't believe it. I was like you gotta be kidding me!”
In a statement, the principal told NewsChannel 5: The bus began to leave before teachers and chaperones conducted a final check, and I helped stop the bus and made sure the student got off the bus. The student was on the bus for less than five minutes. Read the full statement at the bottom of this article.
“I know everybody was tired,” said Jennifer. “It was a really long day but you're accountable. I trust my child with them each day.”
The principal left this audio message for parents. It said in part, "I've personally spoken with the charter company, as well as the bus company, and expressed my concern and disappointment. The driver did not follow protocol.”
“They should have swept the bus,” said Leslie. “The charter bus should have swept the bus, especially you just had a whole full load of kids.”
The Palm Beach County School District said the charter bus driver is facing disciplinary action from the Academy Bus company. Academy Bus says it does not discuss human resource matters. We also asked Academy Bus about its policies and procedures for checking buses with children on board. The company declined to comment.
Janyn Robinson, principal of Lantana Elementary issued a statement, saying:
"On Friday, Lantana Elementary fourth graders rode two chartered buses for a field trip to visit the historic sites in St. Augustine. Each chaperone had eight students under his or her supervision throughout the day.
"The student in question fell asleep on the return trip, and fell back asleep on the bus while at the school after being awakened by others in the group. The bus began to leave before teachers and chaperones conducted a final check, and I helped stop the bus and made sure the student got off the bus. The student was on the bus for less than five minutes.
"I have met with the student’s mother today, and have also spoken with the charter bus company to share my concerns with them."