Act now to prevent a tragedy

Published 10:36 pm Thursday, March 26, 2009

When it was only about a child who had been left alone for four hours in a parked bus by a driver who failed to check for stray students at the end of a run, Wednesday’s example of children paying the price for the inattention of their caregivers was just a worrisome story with a much happier ending than it could have had.

But when it was revealed on Thursday that the child who was left on the bus is the brother of an autistic student whose parents recently wrangled with the Suffolk Public School system over the parents’ right to place him in what they considered to be the best situation for him, then the story turned bizarre.

Somehow the school system once again finds itself in a tenuous legal situation with a still-bitter mother, though this time the cause seems to be the carelessness of an employee likely working under a high degree of stress, rather than the officiousness of one working under the illusion that he understands children better than their parents.

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Rodgers seems eager to go to court with Suffolk regarding the bus incident, and there probably is little the schools can do to keep the matter out of that venue — though whether she could win a judgment there is quite another subject. In the meantime, school administrators and transportation coordinators need to be taking steps to complete their investigation and, if proper, to censure the bus driver who failed to notice that a child was still in the vehicle before he left it for the day.

Even more important, they need to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure such a mistake isn’t made ever again by one of their drivers. Despite Mrs. Rodgers’ implicit threat of a lawsuit, this incident could have turned out much worse. Add temperatures in the 90s to the mix — or an active child with a high level of curiosity — and things could have been tragically worse. The school system must assure that such a tragedy never occurs.