Continuing our Eyewitness News investigation now into First Student bus company. The company transports all special education students within Fresno Unified. Following mechanical and maintenance concerns that were brought to our attention, we obtained emails pointing out deeper concerns about what's happening to students inside the buses.
The school buses transport more than 1,600 special needs kids to and from school every day. First Student has been the sole special education transportation company for Fresno Unified since 1996, but recently we uncovered concerns documented in three months worth of emails between Fresno Unified and First Student.
Fresno Unified Director of Transportation Reggie Ruben says, "These incidents are very isolated incidents. Very few and far in between."
Ruben is the director of transportation with Fresno Unified and his name appears in many of the emails we requested. After sifting through nearly 200 documents, we came across dozens of issues, including one dated September 30th- an email from the principal at an elementary school to staff within the transportation and communications department. In it is a complaint from a mother regarding her five year old son who has autism. She says her child had been picked up from school an hour late by a First Student bus and when he didn't return home at his normal time, she called First Student dispatch repeatedly, receiving different versions of where her son's bus was. Finally, at 5p.p.- nearly three hours after her son boarded the First Student bus- he was returned home.
Ruben says, "It's a great concern that you could have a driver that keeps a student on a bus for that period of time."
The mom claims when the bus pulled up her son was screaming and crying to get out and soaked in sweat and urine, as he's not toilet trained.
Ruben says, "That's is unacceptable, very unacceptable and upon receiving that email I immediately contacted First Student."
In our research of this issue, we tracked down another Fresno mother named Anita Morris, who says something similar happened to her now 18 year old daughter, Jayline, ten years ago.
"I do not know to this day- no one's been able to tell me what happened to my daughter for two hours," says Morris.
Morris says her daughter, who is non-verbal, was on a First Student bus with a substitute driver. She says the bus apparently pulled up to Jayline's babysitter's home, but then drove away. For two hours, no one knew where Jayline was.
"I was thinking that something happened to her."
Morris says she couldn't get any answers from First Student about where her daughter had been, so she says she went to former superintendent Michael Hanson who ordered the district investigate. Current Fresno Unified administration couldn't find a record of Morris's complaint from back then. In fact, we're told the district has no formal documentation or reports about issues that take place on First Student buses. But that could soon be changing. Fresno Unified board president Brooke Ashjian tells us he plans to discuss First Student issues at a future board meeting, and may ask the company to document any and all problems, complaints and concerns. As for the child who went missing this school year, a First Student spokesperson said that student also had a substitute driver that day and was accidentally given the wrong home address. First Student also said the young boy was never lost or in danger.
Morris says, "I can't believe it happened again. It's crazy."
We also found an email from 2016, documenting the frightening moment a child had a seizure while traveling home from school.. The report states that according to a monitor on the bus, the driver did not follow proper procedures and instead of pulling over and calling 911, he continued to drive the student home.
"He should have immediately pulled over, he should have moved everything away from the student and he should have contacted dispatch," says Ruben.
First Student says the driver in that situation was suspended without pay and then re-trained on how to handle a child who is having a seizure.
"The truth is, they are the most vulnerable. They cannot protect for themselves, they need someone to be there for them. It's scary for me as a parent, because this morning I put my child on the bus."
Fresno Unified does say that the beginning of this school year did start out a little rough with First Student, but says since October, it's received very little complaints.