A May 17 incident where one child was taken off a school bus by her mother and another girl latched on to that parent because she was scared, resulted in the firing of an Independent Coach Company driver and parents asking why aren’t there matrons on the buses, especially with the youngest children being transported in the Lawrence School District.
According to Diane Portillo, a Cedarhurst resident, her daughter, Aryana, 5, a pre-kindergarten student at the school district’s Lawrence Early Childhood Center at the Number Four School in Inwood, was on her bus when a parent, a mother, who was tracking the bus (she had a tracking device in her daughter’s backpack) went to where the bus was — Rugby Road near Rockaway Turnpike — knocked on the door and the driver opened the door.
The mother noticed the vehicle “kept going in circles and had stopped for ten minutes,” Portillo wrote on the Number 4 School PTA Parent Group Facebook page Facebook. According to Portillo, that mother asked the driver, identified as Joe DeResto, what was happening as the children were supposed to at school at that time. “So the parent seeing the chaos going on the bus, she asked for her daughter to get out and told the bus driver that was gonna drive her,” to school. “The man looked confused and said he was new to the route,” Portillo told the Herald. “They are babies on the bus.”
Superintendent Dr. Ann Pedersen said that the route that day took 59 minutes and it normally is 32 minutes. She said it was 10 minutes late at the very beginning of the run and at least 10 minutes later near the end of the run.
“Safety is our first and foremost responsibility,” she said, saying she understood that the bus was at Rugby Road by the Starbucks when the parent boarded the bus. “Dr. Frank Zangari (principal of the Early Childhood Center) is sending all families a follow up to our Safety Day and calling every parent that has a child on that bus.”
The district’s transportation supervisor, Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Feder, said he understood that DeResto, is a regular driver for Inwood-based Independent Coach, and was fired.
It was unclear why exactly the driver was fired. Independent issued a statement from Risks Manager Michael Sperber: “At Independent Coach the safety of all our passengers and students is our top priority. Any time we receive word of a potential incident or problem we immediately take steps to investigate the situation. In regards to the incident in question we have been working diligently with all members of the school districts team at both the administration and school. Given the sensitivity of a situation such as this, we cannot release any details about the situation and must respect the privacy of all involved.”
Before the statement was issued, Sperber did say that company officials, “absolutely posted the rules and reiterated [them],” to their drivers. Independent Coach also transports students in the Hewlett-Woodmere School District.
Portillo said other parents are concerned as she is, about the lack of communication from district officials about what occurred, how it was handled and that there are no matrons on the buses, especially with the younger children. She said she called officials in Valley Stream and Oceanside. Both use a different bus company and there are matrons on buses in those school districts. Lawrence has matrons on buses with special-needs children. Portillo plans on addressing this with the Board of Education at the next meeting.
“Matrons on buses is a topic that comes up frequently,” Pedersen said. “We have over time surveyed other districts. We have door-to-door service. Procedures are in place that weren’t followed.
The next board meeting is June 11 at 8 p.m., in the cafeteria of Lawrence Middle School, 195 Broadway, Lawrence.
Have an opinion about transportation in school districts? Send your letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org.