Richmond Hill parents Mukesh Gautam and Sonia Jain were “hysterical” after finding out their five-year-old daughter Esha had mistakenly been put on a school bus and dropped off at a bus stop alone on the first day of school.
Gautam and Jain said their daughter Esha attended her first day of Grade 1 at Windham Ridge Public School on Tuesday and was supposed to stay behind for a YMCA after school program.
“But unfortunately something didn’t work right, something failed in the system,” Gautam said.
“The school knew very well that she was supposed to stay behind but they somehow they sent her outside to go to the bus. And YMCA, they very well knew that she was going to stay behind for the after school program.”
Gautam said school staff, the YMCA, a teacher on school bus duty and the bus driver all failed by allowing the girl to be dropped off at a bus stop near their home without a parent present. He added that Esha’s name was not on the school’s list, but their other daughter’s name had been mistakenly listed twice.
“So they made a mistake and then the teacher on school bus duty, she made an error and she put her on the bus even though there’s a tag on her bag that tells clearly that on Tuesday and Thursday she’s supposed to stay behind,” he said.
“But even then, she was put on the bus and the poor girl thought she was going to the YMCA.”
Gautam said when the bus arrived at the stop, the driver didn’t check whether there was someone to pick her up and instead dropped her off at an intersection alone. Esha then walked across a major thoroughfare and several blocks to the family’s home.
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“And she comes home, falls down in the driveway, poor girl, hurts her knee and stands outside because there’s no one home,” he said.
“My wife and I both were at work, and she stands there and starts crying. And probably she was crying for about half an hour before she was noticed by the neighbours.”
Jain said neighbours who had just moved in four doors down noticed the girl standing alone, crying outside her home and helped her get in contact with her mother.
Luckily, Esha had committed her mother’s cellphone number to memory, but Jain was in a meeting at the time and did not answer the phone immediately because she didn’t recognize the caller.
“So I answered the phone and it’s her and she’s telling me, ‘I’m outside the house there’s no one home,'” Jain said.
That’s when Jain raced to her car and sped the 45 minutes home while frantically trying to reach her husband.
“I said, ‘If a cop stops me, I’m going to ask the cop to follow me to see where I’m going,'” she said, adding she was driving 80 km/h in a 50 km/h zone.
“As soon as I reached her I was shivering and I was crying.”
Gautam added that he had called the school before the first day of school and spoken to staff to confirm his daughter needed to stay behind sent an email reminding them days later.
“It was very frustrating as well as scary. It was very scary,” Gautam said. “She was hysterical actually when she called me.”
Gautam said the principal of the school, Nereo Bonomo, spoke to the family after the ordeal and told them he was investigating what had gone wrong.
“The procedures were followed yesterday, but there are still specifics I do not know at this point,” Bonomo told Global News Wednesday.
“I’m still investigating, still working in partnership with our bus company to understand what exactly happened in order to prevent this from happening any time in the future.”
Bonomo said the school uses a tag system on children’s backpacks to identify students who need to be put on school buses, but added he was still trying to determine whether the tags were checked in Esha’s case.
“It is expected that a child in Grade 1 that if there is no one there to meet them, to take them home, to meet them safety, that they be brought back to the school,” he said.
“We take safety very seriously and so when this was brought to my attention, I immediately went to see the young child to make sure the child was safe and to meet with the mom so that we can begin understanding what went wrong.”
A spokeswoman for Stock Transportation, the bus company used by the school, said they are “taking this matter very seriously” and working with the York Region District School Board to determine what happened.
She added that the bus driver involved in the incident has been removed from route duties pending the outcome of their investigation.
For their part, Gautam and Jain said they are just happy their daughter is safe.
“I’m glad that everything worked out well,” said Gautam. “But it could have ended up really worse than what it was.”
Ashley Carter contributed to this report