Winston-Salem mother angry after four-hour bus trip leaves daughter back at school

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The mother of a girl with special needs who can’t speak is upset that she had to track her daughter down at school four hours after she boarded a bus to come home.

Penny Whitney said her daughter, who suffers from cerebral palsy, got on the bus at Lowrance Middle School in Winston-Salem around 2:30 p.m. Monday.

Anna, 11, was expected home around 3:15 p.m. Whitney tried calling bus center leaders but found a number of people also making calls about delayed buses.

Around 5:20 p.m., Whitney said she talked to someone at the transportation center who told her Anna should be home a little before 6 p.m.

When Anna still hadn’t been dropped off around 6 p.m. Whitney said she called police and went to the school.

Anna was there with the principal.

“I’m hurt that no one took care of my baby,” said Whitney. “No one took care of Anna the way they should have.”

Theo Helm, a spokesman for the Wiston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools district, said not dropping off the child was a mistake made by the driver. He said Anna’s route was combined with another route when a driver didn’t show up to work Monday.

“It’s not something we want to see happen. It’s not something that we want to see repeated and we certainly understand her frustration and why she’s so upset,” said Helm.

Helm said it was also a mistake for the transportation center to let Whitney believe that the child was due home around 6 p.m. when procedure called for Anna or any other child in a similar situation to head back to the school.

Helm said Anna was always under adult supervision and never let out of the bus until she was with the Lowrence principal. That principal had been trying to call Whitney, according to Helm, but the emergency contact information was bad.

Whitney was also upset because no one could tell her Monday why Anna hadn’t been dropped off or why she was told later to expect her home around 6 p.m. Whitney feels like employees at the bus center abandoned her daughter.

“They should have stayed and made sure all children were safely at home before they left there,” said Whitney. “There should have been someone to answer the phone.”

Helm said those employees do stay until the buses are back and can’t explain why Whitney’s calls after 5:30 p.m. went unanswered.

“It leaves me scared,” said Whitney. “I’m afraid of the transportation now so if I take her over there I’ll have to take her because I don’t want to put her on the bus.”

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