Mother of 3-year-old left on bus wants changes

Gwen Chamberlain

The mother of a 3-year-old child who was left unattended on a Penn Yan Central School bus for about three hours Dec. 3 says she supports the school district's decision to fire Janet Lane of Penn Yan, the bus driver who has been charged with endangering the welfare of a child in connection to the incident.

The mother, who is not being identified here in an effort to protect the identity of the child, lays the responsiblity for the incident squarely on the shoulders of Lane.

After Penn Yan Central School Superintendent Ann Orman contacted Penn Yan Police and requested an investigation, Lane, who had initially been suspended by the district, was arrested Dec. 7.

The Penn Yan School Board of Education terminated Lane's employment at its regular meeting on Dec. 8.

According to the mother's description of the events on Dec. 3, a number of factors were involved in the incident.

The boy's ultimate planned destination — the Penn Yan United Methodist Church — was just steps from his Head Start classroom on Main Street, but he was placed on a bus and driven to the Penn Yan Elementary School and transferred to another bus to be driven to the church.

But he didn't get off the bus, and apparently Lane didn't notice him still strapped in a car seat four rows back from the driver's seat.

This was the first time the little boy rode this bus and had this bus driver, the mother explains, and it was the first time he was supposed to go to a special after school program, rather than directly home.

She explains her son, who attends Head Start in Penn Yan, rode a bus from that Main Street site to Penn Yan Elementary School after the Dec. 3 early dismissal at noon, and was then moved to another bus by a bus monitor.

The second bus was going to take her son and the other children to an after school program at the Penn Yan Methodist Church. This was the first time her son was going to this "Half Day Happenings." She says all the students who were supposed to get off at Half Day Happenings did so, except for her 3-year-old, according to what she was told by workers at the church.

She arrived at the church at a few minutes after 3 p.m. even though the program was scheduled to continue until 3:30 p.m. When she and the church workers realized her son was missing, she called the Penn Yan School District's bus garage. A school employee told her the school bus documents showed her son "checked off" the bus list, but she explained that was her other son — the 5-year-old — who was at the church. The other son had told the church workers that his little brother had gone home.

She then called the Penn Yan Elementary School and asked them to initiate a search for her son. She received a phone call at 3:28 p.m. from a bus garage employee telling her the little boy had been found.

She says although she wanted to have the bus driver questioned by police on Friday, she didn't want to talk with school district officials until she had an opportunity to discuss the situation with an attorney.

After talking with her attorney on Monday, Dec. 6, she talked with school officials and police.

Lane was arrested on Dec. 7 and fired on Dec. 8.

"I am happy to hear they fired the bus driver, but if it was me, I would have lost custody and faced jail time," she says, explaining she wants the school district to look at its policies and practices so an incident like this does not happen again.

"The safety and well-being of our students is our highest priority, so we will be reviewing and updating, if necessary, our procedures, policies and training in an effor to make sure an incident of this nature does not occur again," concludes a statement released by the school district on Tuesday.

The mother says she was reassured by Orman's action, having the police investigate the incident.

But she's still working to help her little boy feel safe on the bus. On Monday and Tuesday she drove him to and from Head Start. He stayed home from school on Wednesday because he hasn't been sleeping well since the incident.

Thursday he did ride the bus to school after reassurance from her that he would be safe.

The Chronicle-Express has attempted to contact Lane, but has not received a response from her.