A Lakeside mother is coming forward tonight with concerns that there may not be enough controls in place to make sure kids are properly accounted for on school buses.
Her 3-year-old son with autism, Edan, was left alone and forgetten on a parked Lakeside Union School District special needs school bus for more than an hour.
The incident happened about a year ago. Loretta Watkins said she worked with school district officials and was satisfied with their response to the problem.
However, when she saw an NBC7 story on Thursday night about a San Diego Unified student who was also left unattended on a school bus for at least 30 minutes, she felt she needed to come forward.
"I thought, 'Wow, I can't believe another person in an almost identical situation,'" Loretta Watkins told NBC7. "And I thought this has really got to be made aware at least statewide that they need to change something because this is happening in more districts than just mine."
Watkins said her son is seen in bus surveillance video, which was shown to her by the school district, trapped inside the bus for more than an hour on a hot East County day.
She said it shows him trying to get off the bus and actually exiting it twice. The final time he left the bus, he was wandering the bus terminal and headed for a busy street when he was discovered, she said.
The school district declined to release the surveillance video to NBC7. About the incident, Superintendent David Lorden, Ed.D., sent the following statement:
"Student safety is the upmost concern and focus of the District. To this end, the district does not tolerate conduct inconsistent with this core value," Lorden's statement read.
Watkins said she first hestitated coming forward to the media because she felt the district had adequately handled the problem.
"I just wanted to make a change so this wouldn't happen again," Watkins said.
Upon hearing about 4-year-old Zia Estrada, who is also midly autistic and was discovered May 22 alone inside a parked school bus in a San Diego Unified bus yard, Watkins said she could not help but try to find out how often mistakes like this occur.
"I was told that nothing like this had ever happened in 14 or 15 years," Watkins said. "I mean, seriously - how often does this happen?"
Both Watkins and the district said the bus driver in the Lakeside incident could not have followed proper procedures for ensuring that all of the kids correctly exited the school bus at the drop-off location.
"She had at least four or five probably checks she should have done, and she obviously couldn't have done any one of them. She would have had to pass him on the bus to get to the seats behind him to let (other) children off," Watkins said. "If the people doing the job don't want to do their job,then something needs to change."
Neither Edan nor Zia were injured during the two incidents.