Mom: SPS has ‘failed my babies’

Published 10:45 pm Thursday, March 26, 2009

The 4-year-old student left on a school bus for four hours Tuesday morning has been identified as the brother of the 6-year-old autistic student who made headlines last year after Suffolk Public Schools attempted to force him into the Southeastern Cooperative Education Program against his parents’ wishes.

The schools lost a due process hearing that would have forced parents Vincent and Kimberly Rodgers to place their child in the more restrictive special needs program.

Now, less than six months after winning the hearing, the Rodgers family learned that their 4-year-old son was the child left unattended on his school bus Tuesday morning after the driver parked the bus and did not turn around to check for any children still on board.

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“I truly feel like they failed my babies again,” Kimberly Rodgers said. “This is just difficult to handle and have to swallow after experiencing everything we have experienced. As a parent, I should not have to worry everyday whether or not when I send my children to school that they’re going to be safe in one of form or fashion – whether it’s on the bus or in the classroom. This has really stressed us out and we have a lack of faith in the system to be able to keep our children safe.”

Cheryl Poe, a special education advocate representing the Rodgers family, said the family did not initially want to speak out about the incident, but felt forced to after reading false accounts of the incident in the media.

Initial accounts of the incident indicated that the boy was sleeping, suggesting that he might not have been seen because he was lying down in his seat. Late Wednesday afternoon, though, Suffolk Public Schools officials said they had reviewed the video from the bus and found that the boy could be seen awake and sitting up when the driver was parking the bus.

Additionally, the family takes offense to the fact that the boy is being described as “uninjured.”

Rodgers said she took her son immediately to the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters to be examined. While there were no physical injuries found on the boy, Rodgers contends he is “extremely traumatized.”

Poe said the family has been advised to seek legal counsel in order to explore all avenues of liability in the case.

“This is not about any one person’s action in the situation, this is about the system as a whole that has caused an enormous amount of trauma for this family,” Poe said.

Bethanne Bradshaw, public information officer for Suffolk Public Schools, said the investigation of the incident continues.

The driver has been placed on administrative leave pending the results of that investigation.