Mother frustrated after son left sleeping on Columbus County school bus, driver suspended

Mother frustrated after son left sleeping on Columbus County school bus, driver suspended
Published: May. 22, 2023 at 5:32 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Lorasine Stackhouse thought her son, Timothy Stephens, was in school on May 15 until she got a call from school administrators that afternoon.

“The bus picked him up around 7:26 a.m. and I get a call at 12:10 p.m. that my son was left on the bus,” said Stackhouse. “[They said] ‘I checked him out. He’s okay. Everything’s fine.’ Right then and I went into panic mode. I didn’t expect that call.”

Stephens was asleep and never got off the bus when it arrived at Williams Township School that morning. It was not until almost an hour later that a mechanic found Stephens during a routine check of the bus.

A spokesperson for Columbus County Schools says the bus driver failed to properly complete a post-trip inspection and has been suspended from their role as a bus driver. Stackhouse, however, says more needs to be done to make sure something like this does not happen again.

“Some changes need to be made in this county and my son better be the last one that this happened to because this really did take a toll on me,” she said.

Stackhouse would like to see more accountability from bus drivers and school administrators.

“I expect my son to get to school safe and home safe,” Stackhouse said. “I want the school to put in some protocols where there’s a list on that bus to check off every student getting on and to check off every student getting off.”

The district says they have asked principals, who are in charge of bus drivers, to put more emphasis on the inspection process as a result of this incident.

“We have increased our emphasis on the inspection process with all transportation personnel. Principals are the direct supervisors of bus drivers, and we have notified all principals to continue to be diligent with regard to inspection procedures,” a spokesperson for the district said.

The spokesperson says school buses are never locked and students are taught how to open the doors in an emergency.

A report has been filed with the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office, but the District Attorney’s Office declined to press charges. Columbus County Sheriff Bill Rogers has asked the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office to look into the case. That investigation is pending.

Stackhouse says the district’s response does little to calm her fears of her son being left on the bus again.

“I don’t feel comfortable at all. Not at all. But what am I to do? He still needs his schooling and I need to work. I got bills to pay,” she said.

The district says the driver is a teacher assistant and bus driver and is under suspension as a bus driver.