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Idaho preschooler left on bus wanders away, ends up at different preschool

Idaho preschooler left on bus wanders away, ends up at different preschool

(Stephan Rockefeller/EastIdahoNews.com)


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IDAHO FALLS — It sounds like a parent’s worst nightmare, but this one has a happy — although unexpected — ending.

On Tuesday, an Idaho Falls preschooler went missing for hours on his way to school, and he ended up finding his way to a completely different preschool — on foot and alone.

The 4-year-old boy, whose name has not been released, got on a Bonneville Joint School District 93 bus at his home before noon. His destination was the preschool at Ammon Elementary School on Central Avenue.

But he never arrived. School officials say the child fell asleep on the bus, and the driver finished her route and returned to the bus barn on North Ammon Road — about four miles from Ammon Elementary — without checking to see if children were still on board.

“There were some errors made in protocol here,” District 93 Superintendent Chuck Shackett told EastIdahoNews.com. “It’s our policy that drivers and aides have to look in every seat when they park … but apparently they didn’t do the walkthrough.”

Sometime before 2:30 p.m., the child awoke in the empty bus and pulled the lever on the emergency door at the back. District Safety Director John Pymm said the child then walked off and proceeded unnoticed through the open gate of the bus barn onto a street.

Meanwhile, at Ammon Elementary School

The preschool teacher at Ammon Elementary was aware of the student’s absence, but that absence hadn’t been communicated to the parents.

“Most of the schools have a robocall to let parents know about absences, but they were not set up at the (Ammon Elementary) preschool,” Pymm said.

Robocalls are a system of automated phone messages or emails to let parents know about child absences.

At the bus barn, several hours later, Pymm said the driver noticed the emergency door was open, but had not realized a child had used the door. She closed the door and went on her route.

The child’s parents did not know he had missed preschool until 3 p.m., when he was supposed to return home on that bus.

The frantic parents immediately contacted the school, but officials didn’t not know where the child was.

Eventually, using video cameras at the front of the bus, authorities determined the boy had not gotten off at Ammon Elementary School.

A search, consisting of more than 50 school employees, law enforcement and neighbors, was immediately organized, and an emergency phone alert was sent out to residents.

Photo illustration: Stephan Rockefeller/EastIdahoNews.com
Photo illustration: Stephan Rockefeller/EastIdahoNews.com

Back on the street

It’s unclear where or for exactly how long the child wandered after he got off the bus, Pymm said.

At some point he managed to walk about a quarter of a mile to the parking lot of Bonneville High School. There, school officials say, the young boy encountered a group of high schoolers.

“They asked him if he needed help and (the 4-year-old) convinced them he was fine,” Pymm said.

The young boy noticed some kids his age outside the Bonneville High School preschool. He joined them around 2:30 p.m. when the last period of the day was about to start.

Coincidentally, school officials say, the Bonneville preschool teacher was expecting a new student and assumed the 4-year-old was that student.

“The young man wasn’t very communicative,” Pymm said. “And when she referred to him by the new child’s name, he didn’t contradict her and seemed to want to spend his time there.”

Bonneville High School officials became concerned when no one came to pick him up at the end of the school day.

“It took them an hour to figure out who he was,” Pymm said.

Eventually, teachers looked in the boy’s backpack and discovered his name and his parents’ phone number. He was then reunited with his parents.

Consequences

Shackett said there were some major violations of school procedure, which will be addressed immediately.

In addition, the robocall system will be implemented at the Ammon Elementary preschool on Wednesday.

Shackett did not elaborate on any disciplinary action that might be taken, other than to say the errors made by the bus driver and the aide, who was also on the bus, will be addressed.

In total, the boy was missing for more than four hours, although some of that time was spent under supervision at Bonneville High School.

“We feel very fortunate today,” Pymm said. “What’s most important is that the child was located and this story has a happy ending. We have some work to do to make sure we don’t have any stories that don’t end happy.”

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Nate Sunderland

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