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By ANDREW SKERRITT
Published December 14, 2007
[Stephen J. Coddington | Times]
Every day, thousands of boys and girls climb aboard school buses and arrive home safely without mishap.
But on Nov. 13, something went wrong for a 5-year-old from Chasco Elementary in Port Richey.
At 4:30 p.m. when the bus pulled into her Embassy Hills neighborhood, Angel Wall watched all the familiar faces leave the bus. But where was her daughter Samantha? The driver didn't know.
Wall's heart raced. She frantically called the school office on her cell phone. No luck.
"I was hysterical," said Wall, 33, who rushed to the school on Ridge Road to see if her daughter was still on campus. She wasn't.
Stories of missing children swirled in her head. She called 911.
Operator 71 had good news: Samantha was safe at a home about a mile from home. A sheriff's deputy was with her. The kindergartner boarded the wrong bus and then got off at the last stop with an 8-year-old who took Samantha home, where her grandfather called the Sheriff's Office.
"She could have been kidnapped, murdered, raped," said Wall, who because of the lingering trauma from that incident won't let her daughter take the bus home again.
The Pasco school district office has logged a few of her angry phone calls. She's still mad.
Samantha's regular teacher was absent that day. So was her regular bus driver and her bus buddy, a schoolmate who sits with her on the way home.
Dolly Gauvey had taken over as principal at Chasco just three weeks earlier. She would have preferred an easier first test. But she didn't flinch. Within days, she instituted a new color-coded ticket system for all the students riding a bus. Each vehicle is a assigned a color and if a student doesn't have the right color ticket, he or she can't board that bus.
New students and substitute bus drivers or teachers can tell immediately if a student is getting on the wrong bus. Typically, schools rely on the regular teachers and bus drivers who know the riders.
At Chasco Elementary one afternoon this week, as students queued up, second-grade teacher Kathleen Spillman stood next to the bus, like an airline ticket agent at the departure gate, collecting green tickets as each student stepped aboard.
"We're trying to keep students safe," said Gauvey, as she looked on attentively, a two-way radio in hand. "There are no words for the fear a parent feels when their child doesn't get off the bus."
Angel Wall knows.
And while she is still shaken, she can at least take some comfort knowing that her daughter's wild day led to positive change.
Andrew Skerritt can be reached at email@example.com or 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.
[Last modified December 13, 2007, 20:58:34]