Bus leaves sick 7-year-old to walk home in Florence

Parents, schools disagree on details; driver disciplined

News editor

Conflicting claims continue to swirl this week after a 7-year-old who vomited after getting on a USD 408 bus was left to walk home on his own in 20-degree weather.

The boy’s parents contend he was forced off the bus and, contrary to district policy, they were never notified. They have asked that the driver be fired.

While admitting the parents weren’t immediately notified, district officials contend the boy asked to get off.

They say they have re-emphasized notification procedures with drivers and taken undisclosed disciplinary actions against the driver, who could not be reached for comment.

The boy, second-grader Conner Austin, ended up not having to walk all the way home from the bus stop, where he became ill after being dropped off around 7:30 a.m. Feb. 25 and boarding the bus.

Family friend Cindy Slater saw Conner walking home from the stop and gave him a ride the rest of the 3½ blocks to his house.

“He was crying,” she said. “That’s when he told me his version of what happened” — that driver John Mulvenon had told him he needed to go home after becoming sick.

“It was only 20 degrees outside,” Slater said.

Conner’s parents, Mark and Sheri Connor, weren’t home at the time, but his 17-year-old sister was.

Slater notified the district office.

Mulvenon hadn’t used the bus’ radio to notify officials, Superintendent Lee Leiker said, and before Leiker had a chance to call Conner’s parents, Conner’s mother called Leiker.

Leiker said Conner had asked to be let off the bus to go home.

“John did not kick him off the bus,” Leiker said. “He allowed him to get off, and there’s a significant difference.”

Conner’s father, who didn’t learn about the incident until that evening, disagrees.

“What if Conner wanted to go home?” Mark Austin said. “Since when does a 7-year-old make the decisions? To me that was child endangerment, leaving him sick and alone at the bus stop.”

After trying to reach the driver that evening, Austin called Leiker instead.

“He told me it was unacceptable and it had been dealt with,” Austin said. “I felt brushed off by Mr. Leiker. I told him I thought John should be terminated. I’ve seen people fired for a lot less. I hate to see people lose their jobs, but there have to be crucial repercussions.”

Conner’s parents have been driving him about 10.5 miles to and from school since then.

“Conner’s not riding the bus,” Austin said. “I lost my trust in John.”

Regardless of whether Conner was told or asked to go home, Leiker said Mulvenon shouldn’t have let him to walk home.

“We can never release a student without releasing them to an adult,” he said.

Leiker, who is also the district’s transportation director, said he met with Mulvenon and then with all bus drivers Feb. 26 and 27 to emphasize that requirement.

When a child gets sick on a bus before school, Leiker said, the driver should take the child to school and allow a principal and nurse to handle the situation or should radio in so the district can contact parents and arrange for the child to go directly home.

“We’re going to handle this,” Leiker said. “We’re going to be a better district. We’re not going to let something like this happen again.

“My goal is that we regain the trust of this family.”

Leiker said he couldn’t be specific about any discipline but there have been consequences. He said Mulvenon had been a reliable driver for many years and cares about students.

Slater said that she would be upset if it had been her child but that she thought it had been dealt with.

“I think the school has taken care of it, because I know John didn’t drive the bus on Friday,” she said.

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