The first day of school for the Topeka parents of a 3-year-old deaf student turned into what the mother described as “hell” after her son rode six hours on a school bus – and never made it to school in the Kansas City area.
Brody Hunninghake boarded a bus in Topeka before sunrise Monday, bound for a new year of preschool at the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe, which he attends full-time, five days a week.
Brody, his mother says, lost his hearing after contracting bacterial meningitis when he was 16 months old.
But he arrived back in Topeka more than six hours later without getting to school after the driver lost his way, Amanda Hunninghake wrote on Facebook.
Topeka Public Schools and the bus company publicly apologized to the family, pledging that this will never happen again. Hunninghake met with school and bus company officials on Wednesday and intends to comment later.
“Today has been hell!” an angry Hunninghake wrote Monday evening.
She said her son was picked up at 6:05 a.m. Monday. Her son’s paraprofessional assistant was not on the bus. She wrote that the driver told her the assistant would be picked up along the way.
But then her husband called her at 1:15 p.m. and told her Brody was on his way home.
Brody doesn’t usually get home from school until around 5:15 p.m., his mom says.
What are you talking about? she asked her husband, Chris.
He never made it to school, he said, giving her the bad news that their son had been on the bus the whole time, Hunninghake told KSNT in Topeka.
Brody reportedly rode to metro Kansas City from Topeka – about 60 miles away – with students bound for both the Kansas State School for the Blind in Kansas City, Kan., and the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe.
The Kansas City area schools are about 20 miles apart.
Hunninghake wrote that after the driver dropped off the blind students in Wyandotte County, he couldn’t find the School for the Deaf in Johnson County.
“So he drove around for awhile and then came back to Topeka to the bus depot” with Brody, she wrote on Facebook.
“After that I called the supervisor to find out what exactly happened. I was told that he didn’t know how to get to KSD after going to blind school. I was also told that his phone has died so he couldn’t call and that he stopped in KC and asked someone on the street to use their cellphone to call the bus company.
“There was no para on the bus. At this point I was so furious that I was crying. I told the supervisor he can’t talk so did anybody ask him if he needed to go to the bathroom, need a drink or something to eat.
“He said I don’t know but when the bus got (to) the depot I gave him ... water and a lunchable. So for 6 hours he sat on a bus with nothing to eat, drink or to use the bathroom. I’m beyond mad!! This is unacceptable!!”
In a statement to WIBW in Topeka, Durham, the school bus company, said the driver had been given bad directions to the school. From now on he will have a cell phone to keep him in constant communication with the company and destinations in Kansas City, the statement said.
The driver has also been given additional training, the company added.
“Getting our students to and from school safely is our top priority. Yesterday, we were not able to deliver a student to school, as the driver had incorrect routing directions,” said the bus company’s statement on Tuesday.
“We are very sorry for this error and have taken immediate action to ensure it does not happen again.”
Several steps have been made, “including adjusting the bus route as well as assigning a paraprofessional to the route every day,” said a statement from Topeka Public Schools, which has a contract for Durham’s services.
“Student safety is a top priority and it is our expectation that it remains a priority in every interaction with a student through our employees as well as our contracted services.”