THE terrifying ordeal endured by a non-verbal autistic child who was abandoned on a school bus for four hours in Omagh last week, should have been prevented after a similar incident was reported to the Education Authority less than four years earlier.
There has been widespread outrage after the UH revealed that an eight-year-old boy, who had been due to attend a summer scheme at Arvalee School and Resource Centre, was left strapped inside a bus on his own at the Transport Authority’s Killyclogher depot for more than four hours on Tuesday.
It is claimed the child was only discovered when another worker at the depot happened to be walking past the bus.
The child’s parents are said to be ‘distraught and angry’ at what has happened.
Their distress was shared by a father from Enniskillen whose disabled daughter endured a very similar traumatic experience on October 19, 2015.
Jonathan Kerr told the Tyrone Herald how his then 17-year-old daughter Sophie, who is mute, was left alone on a school bus at the local Education Authority bus depot on the Sligo Road in Enniskillen for over three hours, after the bus failed in their duty to deliver the wheelchair bound Willowbridge student to school.
At around midday the driver discovered Sophie at the depot in her wheelchair at the back of the school bus and the family were informed. In both incidents the bus included a number of other children with additional needs, as well as the driver of the vehicle and a specialised escort.
Mr Kerr said, “We were absolutely furious. Sophie could have suffered from hypothermia, had a seizure, as she requires regular medication.
“When you place your child on the school bus you expect her to be safely delivered to school not abandoned by the bus escort and forgotten about by the bus driver who then drove her to the local bus depot where she sat on her own in an empty bus for three hours without food, water, medication or attention.
“You wouldn’t even do that to a dog let alone to a defenceless mute and wheelchair bound child.
“I was promised at the time by the powers that be at the Education Authority, that this would never happen again. They promised measures would be put in place regarding driver training and protocol. It now appears they are giving this family the same old spiel they gave me and my wife about things improving.
“I proposed a system that when the driver turns off the ignition, an alarm goes off at the back of the bus and he has to walk down to turn it off.
“They said they would take my suggestion onboard but due to money they probably didn’t bother.”
In a statement in 2015, the Education Authority gave the Kerr family an unreserved apology and stated, “All necessary steps will be taken to prevent such an incident occurring again.”
Last week the Education Authority once again stated, “Additional measures may be required to ensure an incident of this nature does not happen again.”
The spokesperson said, “The safety and well-being of all pupils is EA’s primary concern.
“EA can confirm that following an investigation into a transport related incident in 2015 at Willowbridge School a series of measures were put in place to improve compliance with protocols supporting children and young people with special educational needs travelling to and from
“EA is currently investigating a further breach of these protocols. As this matter is under investigation no further comment can be made as it may be prejudicial to the process.”
For Mr Kerr, the lessons clearly have not been learnt.
“This incident in Omagh will now automatically trigger a compensation claim for my daughter against the Education Authority,” he said.
“I made the proviso that I would not claim for negligence unless something like this happened again. I am going to go for them full tilt this time. I have contacted the Education Authority to make them aware of what will happen next, which will be starting proceedings through my solicitor.”
Mr Kerr also revealed he has rung Arvalee School to pass on his thoughts to the family involved in Omagh and to let them know this has happened before.