School districts seldom call police when children left on school bus

Schools required to report incidents to state

INDIANAPOLIS - A national school bus transportation expert is pushing for change following a Call 6 Investigation into children left alone on Indiana school buses.

The Call 6 Investigators reported school districts and bus companies have to report when a child is left behind per a new state law that went into effect, but some argue there’re not enough teeth in the law to keep children safe.

Records obtained from the Indiana Department of Education show 69 incidents since July 2009.
          
But national transportation expert Richard Fischer told Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney there’s a double standard.

Parents who leave their child alone in a car often face jail time and hefty fines, but bus drivers rarely face criminal charges for leaving a child alone on a school bus.

For example, Pooja Thakkar is currently serving six months on house arrest in Hamilton County after her daughter was left alone in a 110-degree car.

The little girl survived, as did the dozen of children left inside Indiana school buses, but education officials say it puts children’s lives at risk.

“Every kid has the potential of being in a dangerous situation if they’re left on a bus,” said Michael LaRocco, transportation director for the Indiana Department of Education.

Despite the danger, there’s no state requirement for school districts to call the police when a child is left on a school bus.

The Call 6 Investigators did some checking and found oftentimes, school districts don’t call law enforcement at all.

“I think the police should be involved in each one,” said Richard Fischer, a national transportation expert who has trained bus drivers since 1959. “It’s negligence when you leave a youngster on a bus.”

The Call 6 Investigators found when police were called, bus drivers who failed to check for children sometimes received a ticket for an infraction, which carries a fine of up to $500.

In comparison, court records show parents often face felony criminal neglect charges, which carry a possible sentence of up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Fischer said Indiana needs tougher criminal penalties for bus drivers who leave children in dangerous situations.

“I like New Jersey Law,” said Fischer. “It’s that (bus drivers) lose their license for six months. And if you do it again, you lose it forever.”

Indiana is one of the few states that require school districts to report to the state when a child is left on a school bus, but the Call 6 Investigators also found there’s no punishment for school districts who fail to do so.

In New Jersey, school districts can face sanctions for violation of state law, including loss of state funding.

“I think there should be punishment,” said Fischer. “If that’s the law, that’s the law.”

Indiana lawmakers admit there’s room for improvement in the law itself.

When asked why prosecutors don’t charge bus drivers similar to parents, a spokesperson for the Marion County prosecutor’s office would only say they handle incidents on a case by a case basis. 

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