Saturday, July 20, 2024

A 5-year-old got off his school bus Monday at the wrong stop and was left to wander the streets, a parent told the School Committee.

The parent, whose last name is Rivers, was crying even before she began speaking to the committee Tuesday night, said her son was approached by a stranger and taken to a home on Rindge Avenue after leaving the Tobin School on a bus headed to his after-school program. (The parent asked that her first name not be used.)

“They lost him,” Rivers said. “He was wandering around for 10 minutes on the street … he could have been hit by a car, someone could have kidnapped him.”

Rivers said she got a call at about 2 p.m. from a woman on Rindge who found her phone number on a tag on her son’s backpack. Police picked up the boy from the home, so Rivers retrieved him from the police. No Tobin officials contacted Rivers, according to her testimony to the committee, but later she said she spoke with someone at the school who said it was the parents’ responsibility to teach children the proper stops.

Rivers said she was told “the bus monitor told your son to sit down, then turned around and he was gone.” He mistakenly followed other kids off the bus, she said, upset at being blamed for the error.

When the Eastern Bus Co. driver arrived at the after-school program, a worker there asked why Rivers’ son wasn’t on the bus. “The bus driver shrugged, said ‘I don’t know’ and drove off,” Rivers said she was told by the worker.

When the driver and bus monitor appeared at the after-school program again Tuesday, the worker wondered “Where are the repercussions? Where’s the discipline?” Rivers recounted.

Chuck Winitzer, owner of the Somerville-based Eastern Bus Co., said Tuesday night, contacted via his after-hours phone number, that he hadn’t been told of the incident.

There is a procedure in place for when children realize they missed their stop and are on the bus after they should be. When a student tells a driver or bus monitor of the problem, the drop-off route is completed and the student is brought to a waiting area at the high school, where a parent is called, said Justin T. Martin, the school system’s public information officer. There is no protocol to fall back on when a student gets off too early.

“This is a more rare case,” said Martin, who has been with the district for five years. “I don’t recall the last time this happened.”

“We take child safety as probably our top priority. We strive for excellence,” he said. “Unfortunately, from time to time incidents such as this do happen. We try to make sure they don’t happen again.”

School Committee member Joe Grassi asked Superintendent Jeff Young to look into the matter.

A message was left with the worker at the after-school program Tuesday night. The principal of the Tobin School, Seth Lewis Levin, could not be reached.

In other action, the committee — technically a subcommittee made up of all committee members — discussed a list of seven budget guidelines (click here for a PDF) in advance of a Dec. 15 vote. Young, in his first year in Cambridge, has asked the committee to weigh in early on the schools budget and help set policy instead of merely discussing it for approval at the end of the process.

“Your committee should be setting overarching goals. We want you as elected officials to point us in the direction you want us to follow,” Young told the committee members. Because of a bad economy and financial restraints, he said, “Were all going to have our values tested.”

But even in the discussion Tuesday, which touched specifically on only a couple of the seven points, there were possible savings identified in energy efficiencies, special education and in reevaluating certain programs to see whether they should remain funded. Member Patty Nolan said Cambridge has been fortunate in recent years when other school districts were cutting fat, then muscle; at this point, Cambridge is beginning to cut fat.

Technological advances at the administrative level — such as abandoning a complicated, pencil-and-paper style of ordering supplies— can save money, she said by way of example. And of four or five summer programs, one might be increased with resources reallocated from the others.

A draft expanding on the seven budget points would be circulated to committee members by e-mail this week, co-chairman Marc McGovern said, so the members could go into the Dec. 15 meeting ready to vote.

This post was updated May 18, 2013, to take out first name of the parent of the 5-year-old.