No one noticed that Evan Clifford never got off the bus when it arrived at Quarryville Elementary on Monday morning.
The 11-year-old boy with Down syndrome had fallen asleep and did not wake up until after the bus driver drove to her home in a mobile home park.
Evan’s dad said his son became upset when he awoke and realized he was not at school — the driver had gone into her home, not realizing Evan was on the bus.
“He was scared, he was crying, he couldn’t find his way home,” Joshua Clifford said.
Evan ventured around the mobile home park in the heat before deciding to walk to nearby Route 272 where he attempted to hitchhike his way home, Clifford said.
He said a motorist saw Evan and stopped to ask if he was OK, adding the boy shared his mother’s phone number with the motorist. The motorist called Dana Clifford, who thought it was the school calling her, Joshua Clifford said
“My wife lost it,” he said. “She couldn’t talk, couldn’t stop crying.”
Dana Clifford and the couple’s 19-year-old daughter drove the 20 minutes from their Paradise home to where Evan was and took him home.
The incident cost the bus driver her job and left Evan and his mom rattled.
Two days later, Evan and his mother are still shaken up from the incident, Joshua Clifford said.
“My wife’s a mess. She doesn’t want to put him on a bus,” he said. “You can imagine.”
‘This is unacceptable’
Eschbach Bus Service said the bus driver did not perform the required inspection after the trip.
“This is unacceptable and we apologize for jeopardizing student safety,” the Holtwood-based company said in a statement. “ ... We will work with the school district to make sure this will never happen again.”
Joshua Clifford said an aide assigned by the Solanco School District school to look after another child saw that Evan was sleeping and tried to wake him up as the bus pulled into the school. He said the aide was distracted with helping other kids off the bus and didn’t realize Evan was still on board.
Joshua Clifford said he and his wife met with district officials to discuss an alternative way to transport Evan to school, such as a van. In the meantime, his parents will drive him to school, he said.
The school district provided the following statement:
“There are required checks that all bus drivers are required to complete at the end of their runs that did not happen in this case. District officials have met with the parents and are working with the transportation contractor to address this personnel matter. The safety of all students is a top priority.”
Joshua Clifford said he and his wife would reach out to a lawyer but he did not specify whether they are considering taking legal action against the school district or the bus company.
Regardless of whether they take legal action, Joshua Clifford said, he and his wife want to work with the school district to fix the underlying issues that caused this to happen.
“If we don't do something, something else is going to happen to another kid. Me and my wife wouldn't be able to live with ourselves if we didn’t do something to fix the system,” he said.