A tearful kindergarten pupil from a Buffalo charter school was found Tuesday afternoon wandering the streets of a Cheektowaga housing development, miles from his home in Blasdell, after a school bus driver dropped him off at the wrong location.
An investigation later determined that the bus driver diverted from his assigned route and that two young passengers with the same first name led to the 5-year-old boy being dropped off far from home on his first ride from school.
“At the end of the day, a terrible mistake has been made. It’s a dreadful mistake,” said Mark Crawford, superintendent of the West Seneca School District, where the driver is employed. “But I am not trying to defend this or explain it away. We just feel terrible about it.”
The West Seneca School District is responsible for transporting students who attend private, religious and charter schools outside the district. Its territory includes the section of Blasdell where the boy lives.
The kindergartner, who attends Community Charter School in Buffalo, was found in the area of the Garden Village Apartments in South Cheektowaga.
The boy was supposed to be dropped off at Cambridge Square apartments, near the McKinley Mall, before a first-grader with the same first name was dropped off at Garden Village.
But the other boy, who attends a different charter school, wasn’t on the bus Tuesday.
“The driver chose to take a route that had not been laid out,” Crawford said. Instead of heading to Cambridge Square first, the driver went to Garden Village.
A good Samaritan who found the boy called Cheektowaga police.
“He was so upset; we didn’t know who he was,” Capt. James Speyer, a department spokesman, said of the boy.
When the boy was unable to communicate, police looked in his backpack and found paperwork that led them to the charter school near the Buffalo-Cheektowaga border. When police called the school, there was no answer, Speyer said, so they contacted someone in the Buffalo Public Schools’ Transportation Department.
The boy spent about two hours with police before they eventually heard from his mother, who reportedly is a school bus driver herself.
“Somebody got through to the mom – we never did,” Speyer said.
“We put the child on the bus he was supposed to get on,” said Denise Luka, head of school at Community Charter School.
Though the boy started school Aug. 19, Tuesday was the first day he rode the bus, she said.
The fact that a young student was dropped off without an adult to meet him - in violation of West Seneca’s policy - troubled Crawford and Luka, both of whom have spoken with the boy’s mother.
“This is such a regrettable thing. We are all sick about it,” Crawford said. “When you think about what could have happened, we are grateful that (the boy) was found soon after.”
Luka had been thinking the same thing.
“There was a happy ending. It could’ve have ended very differently,” she said. “I’m thankful that the little fella is safe.”
As for the driver’s status, Crawford said Wednesday: “We have an internal matter going on. I’m not at liberty to talk about it.”