It was a ‘terrifying second’ as Guelph kindergartener left at fallacious bus cease

Students board buses at Guelph's John McCrae school in September 2021.Students board buses at Guelph's John McCrae school in September 2021.

Guelph parents are raising concerns about school bus transportation after the bus arrived at the end of their daughter’s first day of junior kindergarten without the child on board.

“She was returned home safely about 20 minutes later, but we are still very upset about the incident,” Angie Mason said in an email to the Mercury Tribune.

It was Friday, Sept. 10 — the first day of school for many local JKs — and Mason and her husband were excitedly waiting at the end of their driveway to see their three-year-old and learn how the first day had gone.

“The school bus pulled up and said she was not on the bus. It was a terrifying moment,” said Mason.

The driver got on the radio, and a minute or two later said the child had been located. Several kilometres away, at an earlier bus stop, another JK parent had noticed her and called the school, Mason said.

It’s not entirely clear what went wrong, but Mason believes her little girl probably just followed a classmate off the bus at the wrong stop.

Her daughter has a tag on her backpack with the address of her stop, and the bus driver is supposed to check that tag, she said.

Mason and her husband were told that the driver had been disciplined, and they have not seen that same driver since that day, but they are not sure all the blame should be placed on the driver.

She is thankful the incident had a relatively happy ending.

“This could have been way worse. She could have been missing,” Mason said of her daughter.

But the missed drop-off is not the only issue the family has had with bus transportation since school began.

On the second day of school, the bus — which the Masons were notified would be 30 to 45 minutes late — failed to pick the little girl up. When it eventually came back for her, it was about an hour and 20 minutes past her normal pickup time.

The Upper Grand District School Board — the board in which Mason’s daughter is enrolled — has heard from a few parents with concerns about transportation, UGDSB communications manager Heather Loney said in an email.

Board staff have responded to families and continue to work closely with Wellington-Dufferin Student Transportation Services — the consortium providing transportation for the five school boards in Wellington and Dufferin counties — to gain an understanding of the issues, Loney said.

“The board is aware that the availability of drivers is limited in the WDG region and especially across the province,” she said.

Jim Switzer is president, CEO and co-founder of Switzer-Carty Transportation Inc., the company that takes Mason’s daughter to and from her school in Guelph.

“We have drivers in every seat,” said Switzer, explaining that the company is not short drivers, but it could use some extra drivers to sub in if regular drivers can’t make it in or if a bus breaks down.

Issues with late buses can happen in these situations, with drivers having to pick up additional routes after completing their regular routes, he said.

The incident where Mason’s daughter didn’t make it home on her bus he put down to “human error,” and said it’s taken very seriously.

Situations such as that one are “very, very rare,” Switzer said. “When an incident arises, it doesn’t make any of us happy.”

He didn’t go into specifics, but said there is an internal process for dealing with the situation, involving discipline and additional training for the driver.

Safety is a priority for the company, he said, noting that the company’s efforts to retain good drivers — including competitive wages and health benefits — help improve safety.

At the same time, the company is recruiting new drivers on an ongoing basis, and recruitment has been a challenge in Guelph’s tight job market, Switzer said.

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