A San Diego family is demanding a school bus driver be fired after their 4-year-old girl with autism was left behind, alone on an empty school bus.
Fernando Estrada said his little girl, who has been diagnosed as mildly autistic, has been telling her parents she was “looking for Mr. School Bus” when she was left alone inside the bus on May 22.
Estrada and his wife put Zia on the bus at 6 a.m. that Thursday, expecting her to be driven to a pre-K special education class at Kumeyaay Elementary School.
What happened next is unclear.
As the family tells it, there was a four-hour difference from the time Zia got on the bus at the family’s Murphy Canyon military housing unit to when they were called to pick up the little girl from the bus yard serving San Diego Unified School District.
Estrada said he has heard several versions of the story from school officials. In one version, the bus driver told a school staffer that Zia was not on the bus, then left to pick up other children and drop them off at another school.
The parents told NBC 7 that their daughter was found alone in an empty, parked bus at the school bus yard by another driver.
"We just want them to do their jobs right, so when we put the kids in the bus, they go to school, and they come back to us," Estrada said.
Administrators at Kumeyaay Elementary School would not discuss the incident with NBC 7 and referred questions to the district office. SDUSD spokesman Jack Brandeis told NBC 7 in a statement.
“On Thursday, San Diego Unified unfortunately had a student left unattended for less than 30 minutes in a bus parked at its central bus facility," SDUSD spokesman Jack Brandeis told NBC 7 in a statement. "The district takes student safety very seriously and is investigating the matter. As it may involve employee discipline, we cannot comment any further."
"The day this happened, I was completely outraged," Estrada said. "I barely was able to call people."
Now, he and his wife say they want the bus driver to lose his job.
"How is it he forgot?" Estrada asks. "How is it he didn't do the inspections he was supposed to do?"
The girl's mother has refused to put Zia on another school bus since the incident. As for Zia, she just wants to take the bus again.
Zia was unharmed, but as her father pointed out, she was left on the bus on a day when temperatures were mild.
Estrada told NBC 7 he doesn't want to think about what may have happened if San Diego had been under a heat warning at the time.
"We just got lucky. That day it was nice, cool. We don't know what would've happened if she was in the bus, locked in there for a while and it was hot, it could've been a completely different story," he said. "We wouldn't have her."
Check back for updates on this developing story.