Getting all kids off the bus or day care van  

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel                            December 22, 2007

Rachel Schanning was forgotten on her school bus for more than an hour while the temperature hovered around 36. Zakia Goff was forgotten on her day care van for two hours at 29 degrees. Cantrell Wilson was left for four hours on his school bus at 25 degrees. Luck was with them, and they survived. Asia Jones didn't.

Asia, 2, was found seven hours later, after the day care van's temperature reached an estimated 128 in June 2005. One by one, her organs shut down as she remained buckled in her seat.

Rachel, 3, was left behind last December; Zakia, 1, and Cantrell, 4, in just the past few weeks. All four by their drivers.

Three of the kids were heading to day care or school, but only one institution called to report their absence, four hours late. The fourth, Zakia, was returning home from day care. There was no way for her mother to contact the driver. It was two hours before Zakia was found by police, strapped to her car seat in the dark, padlocked, day care parking lot.

Day care centers are licensed by the state. They must know the whereabouts of all children at all times. And they are forbidden to leave them unattended. They aren't given much more guidance by the guardians at Wisconsin's Department of Health and Family Services.

After Asia's death, her mother and grandmother sought tougher day care legislation. The result was the Asia Jones Bill that allows criminal conviction of those who abandon kids in vehicles. This is punishment, not prevention.

"(It) is my understanding that a number of day care van drivers don't get paid well, and to give a driver who feels he's being underpaid one more task to do may just be one more task he doesn't do," Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee), who is leading the reform effort in Madison, told me.

Damned if you do, and damned if you don't? Don't be so sure.

Look at one of our premier youth organizations, Boy Scouts, where safety is an everyday job. At almost any of its camps, there are hundreds of children in and out of the water every day, all summer long. The Scouts have a simple tracking system.

Each Scout gets a name tag that is hung on a waterfront board upon arrival at camp. He moves the tag to the in-the-water section of the board when going for a swim. He returns it when he gets out. An instant monitor of everyone's whereabouts. This widget has saved lives for decades.

We don't need to reinvent the wheel. A bus or van could have a simple tag board, or variation, beside the driver. The driver and the day care supervisor check it on arrival. Then the board can be used to immediately call parents of absentees.

On the way to kids' homes, backup protection comes from a waiting parent armed with a cell phone number for the driver and another for the after-hours, on-call supervisor.

Think this is too onerous for a small day care center trying to hold down costs? What's a life worth?

Right now, alarms are touted as the next solution, and Coggs has proposed a law to make them mandatory, but they have problems. When the vehicle's motor is turned off, the alarm automatically turns on. The off-switch is at the rear of the bus, so the driver must pass and inspect above and below each seat. With that thing wailing, how many underpaid drivers aren't just going to dash to the rear to flip it off, skipping the inspection? The drivers need watchdogs.

Our kids are our most precious possessions. Another driver error is not a possibility. It's a probability.

Madison, are you on the bus or off the bus?

 
   

 

 

 

 

 

 

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