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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The father of an 8-year-old autistic boy who was discovered abandoned on an otherwise empty school bus said he’s not appeased by new safety measures the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office has added since the incident last week.
Kaleb Lepe was alone on a parked bus for more than five hours Sept. 9, when the high temperature for the day was 98 degrees.
“We don’t know if this process is going to fix everything, or what’s going to happen to the driver who left our son,” said Kaleb’s father, Eric Lepe.
The boy attends a KCSOS class on the campus of San Lauren Elementary School in northwest Bakersfield. KCSOS provides transportation to and from the campus, which is part of the Beardsley School District.
KCSOS already required drivers to double-check that buses were empty at the end of their routes.
“This policy obviously was not practiced in this case,” said district spokesman Rob Meszaros.
As a result, KCSOS has implemented some new rules to prevent such incidents in the future, he said.
First, daily bus reports have been modified with new boxes to initial upon completion of post-trip inspections for each run.
The district also has introduced a new child tracking worksheet. A dry erase seating chart will be on every bus, and a check mark will be placed by names when students board and erased when they depart.
Finally, the district is testing so-called double check flags on 10 buses. If they work out well, the flags will be installed on the district’s entire bus fleet.
There are several bus models with varying back window configurations, so KCSOS wants to make sure the flags function properly before rolling them out fleetwide.
In the test, drivers will be required to walk to the back of the bus when completing their post-trip inspection to lower a flag mounted on the bus’ rear window.
The flags are visible outside the bus, and a supervisor will check the fleet twice a day to make sure each bus was inspected.
KCSOS operates 90 school buses that deliver about 1,000 children to 55 locations throughout the county.
That includes 60 special education routes that transport about 800 special ed students.
The person who left Kaleb on the bus was a substitute driver. Officials said she is not currently driving with KCSOS. Her name has not been released.
Both regular and substitute drivers are trained to inspect their buses after each route to make sure no children or belongings are left behind.
After the substitute driver finished her route last week, she parked under an awning at the KCSOS bus yard at 705 S. Union Ave., leaving the vehicle at about 8:35 a.m. Another employee discovered the child at 1:55 p.m.
The Bakersfield Police Department conducted a brief investigation of the incident but did not ask the District Attorney’s office to file criminal charges.
Kaleb was fatigued and a little dehydrated on the day he was left behind but was otherwise OK, his father said.
The boy is back riding the bus again but only because his parents have no choice with early work schedules.
“We’d really rather take him, ourselves, if we could,” Lepe said. “I just hope the other drivers learn from this, and they implement things sooner rather than later.”