A five-year-old boy was found wandering along Highway 881 near Township Road 582 on Jan. 18 at around 9:30 a.m.
St. Paul RCMP were contacted by a driver who found the child and was concerned. The driver brought the boy to the RCMP detachment. He was later reunited with his family.
“It was so scary,” said Donna Favel, the little boy’s grandmother. “My daughter called me and she was crying.”
Favel says her grandson was picked up by the bus at about 8:10 a.m.
“He did not get off at the school.
“It’s usually really cold in the morning,” she added, estimating it was at least -30 C that morning. “I’m amazed he didn’t freeze his hands. His hands were exposed. His gloves were in his backpack.”
Favel said her grandson was doing much better on Friday, although he’s shaken and unusually quiet. He’s not returning to school for now, Favel said, and won’t be taking the bus.
RCMP is investigating and is asking anyone with dash cam footage from the day, time and area to contact St. Paul RCMP at 780-645-8870.
St. Paul RCMP confirmed it is working with the St. Paul School Division on this case.
In a bulletin sent from the school district on Jan. 19, St. Paul Education said there was “a serious incident” on Jan. 18 “where a kindergarten student remained on a bus after it was returned to the driver’s yard following the morning drop off.
“The child exited the bus and found their way to the road in a rural area.
“A concerned citizen intervened and the child was brought safely to the RCMP,” school district officials said in the letter.
It explained that drivers are trained to do a mandatory walkthrough of their bus to make sure it’s empty before leaving it.
“Our initial review indicates this was not done.”
The school district also said schools call home to confirm any student absences and that regular procedure starts at 8:45 a.m. beginning with the youngest children first.
“The delay in noting the absence was in part due to the large number of absences that day in the school as a result of several buses not running due to varying road conditions,” the bulletin read.
“We immediately launched an investigation and will be reviewing our transportation practices/equipment as well as our student absence reporting process all with a view to improve student safety.
“We are also examining all of our training, school bus safety practices, administrative procedures and will take the steps necessary to ensure we reduce any identified risk to students.
“Upon completion of the review, we will take all necessary actions to improve student safety. Our actions and decisions are guided by our commitment to the safety of St. Paul School Division students.”
The school district said the bus driver was removed from his duties pending further investigation.
“I don’t want that driver driving anymore,” Favel said. “If this is not an eye-opener then what is?
“My grandson, his life was endangered.”
She said the family has spoken with the school division, who estimated the five-year-old boy was outside for about half an hour.
“How far did he walk? How long was he outdoors? What could have happened down the road?
“He could have been kidnapped, attacked or huddled under something trying to keep warm and never found.”
In addition to enforcing bus protocols, Favel believes an emergency button on the bus might be a good idea. She also thinks it would be helpful to educate kids of what to do if they find themselves in a situation like that alone.
“I do hope something comes of this. I don’t want another child going through this again. No child deserves this.”
St. Paul School Division said it would fully cooperate with any RCMP investigation.
“We are thankful for the safe return of this child and the swift response from the concerned citizen. We take this situation to heart and this matter has our full attention. We have been in regular contact with the student’s family and will support them in any way we can.”
The bulletin was signed by St. Paul School Division board chair Heather Starosielski and Supt. Glen Brodziak.
On Jan. 18, much of Alberta was in midst of a cold spell. Temperatures hovered around -23 and -26 C.
St. Paul is about 200 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.