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(Rick Hickman / American Press)

(Rick Hickman / American Press)

Editorial: Bus problems demand attention

Last Modified: Saturday, January 19, 2013 7:15 PM

The least the Calcasieu Parish school system should be expected to do is what it is promising now — to investigate how a toddler in the system’s care was left alone on a school bus for six hours last week.

But any investigation or review should cast a much wider net, given the spate of transportation-related incidents this school year that have put Calcasieu students at risk — sometimes, at grave danger — while in the hands of school system employees.

Here are the bare details of the latest incident, last week’s: Darren St. Romain, 3, boarded a parish school bus at 7 a.m. Jan. 16 but did not leave the bus when it arrived at J.D. Clifton Elementary. Darren’s mother said she was told the child either fell asleep on the bus or crawled under a seat. The bus driver eventually parked the bus at S.J. Welsh Middle School, where it remained with Darren aboard by himself for the next six hours. The driver and bus monitor were both suspended and the probe announced.

But there have been other serious incidents related to school system transportation:

l Earlier this month, a substitute bus driver was arrested in his bus for drunken driving; he had just delivered 49 children to their schools north of Sulphur. The school system had allowed him to drive before the results of his background check were returned.

l In December, a 6-year-old child left Brentwood Elementary on the wrong bus, his whereabouts unknown to school officials and his parents for four hours.

l Last fall, a member of the Washington-Marion dance team was intentionally left behind at Walmart on U.S. 171 after a confrontation with the dance team sponsor.

Parents and the public should understand that despite the best intentions, bad things can happen in a system with an enrollment of about 32,000 students, half of whom ride the buses. No one should suggest that the administration is not trying to remedy these problems.

But the School Board is the public’s best, direct contact with oversight of the school system. Of late, it appears board members are closing their eyes to the trouble around them.

Leaving a toddler on a bus is inexcusable. So is driving drunk with 49 children aboard, losing a child or intentionally leaving a teen in your care behind at a store on a Friday night. This system needs help — fast — before tragedy occurs.

“We all have to work together to protect the No. 1 commodity that we are working with every day, and that’s our children.” In a different context, Calcasieu Superintendent Wayne Savoy told lawmakers that in Baton Rouge last week.

That’s sound advice for School Board members, too, whenever they care to get involved.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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