GASTONIA, N.C. (WBTV) – It was a frantic Friday in November when Jose Padilla’s nephew, Michael, didn’t return home from school on time.
Padilla said his 15-year-old nephew is a student at Forestview High School in Gastonia, and has been identified as a special needs child through an Individualized Education Program.
He said that normally the teen gets home around 4:30 p.m. after riding the school bus. Padilla said that when his nephew hadn’t arrived home by 5 p.m., he and his sister began to worry.
“My sister was starting to panic. As she was getting in the car to go look for him, she saw him coming down the street being escorted by another little girl,” Padilla explained.
He said Michael told the family he was late because his bus had caught fire. School officials confirm that the bus did break down and the engine overheated. Padilla said his nephew had to walk a few miles to reach the home.
“We expected a call from the school with an explanation. We didn’t get one,” explained Padilla.
He said he and his sister went to the school the following Monday in an attempt to get an explanation regarding the incident. They said that after speaking to multiple administrators, they were eventually told the bus did break down and a substitute bus driver allowed the students to walk home if they chose to do so. Padilla said he was not happy to hear this.
“It’s of the utmost importance that when it happens that they follow protocol to the ‘t’,” stated Padilla in reference to the bus break downs.
Gaston County Schools Communications Officer Todd Hagans confirmed that when a bus breaks down, the vehicle us is typically repaired and the students on-board are taken to their destinations, or a new bus comes to take the students to their destinations. Hagans said typically students should not leave the scene.
“We put our children’s lives in their hands,” stated Padilla. “Luckily another child escorted him home, because it’s a 50-50 toss-up that he would have made it home.”
Padilla said he contacted WBTV regarding the incident because the family had not gotten a resolution or commitment from the school system to fix the problem.
The school system released the following statement regarding the incident Monday:
“School bus safety is a priority for us, and we provide training for our bus drivers and emphasize safety on a regular basis. School administrators met with the parents to address their concerns, and school administrators also met with the driver to review bus safety procedures.”
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