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Botched Manatee school bus pick-up leaves kids stranded

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Several Manatee County parents are upset over a botched school bus pickup during the first week of school.

Parents say a Manatee County school bus arrived at their children's bus stop on 51st Street West in Bradenton Wednesday morning to pick them up. But after most of the parents left, several children were told the bus was too full and they had to get off. Those kids then had to wait unattended for several hours until another bus arrived.

Now the parents are asking why there is no official policy on how to handle an overcrowded school bus.


"They got on the bus, sat down, we waved to the driver, sat in our car for a couples seconds, and then drove off," says single parent Sarah Combs.  She also says that the bus driver closed the door and waved to her signaling it was okay to leave. Combs assumed her children were on their way to school and drove off -- but that assumption proved to be wrong.

"The bus driver told us to get off, and [my brother] said he couldn't get off without me," says 9-year-old Alayna. The girl, her 6-year-old brother Ethan, and eight other children were removed from the school bus because there weren't enough seats. The bus then drove away with a promise from the driver that another school bus would soon arrive to pick the kids up.

The problem was that all but two parents had already left the bus stop, and a replacement bus did not arrive to get the children for over two hours.

"He was getting restless, everybody was getting restless, he was climbing the tree and running in the streets and stuff," Alayna says her brother and the rest of the children, who ranged from age 5 to 10 and were running wild. The 9 year old was eventually able to get a hold of her mother, who quickly returned. Though the remaining children were eventually picked up, their parents remain outraged.

"Everyone should know that you do not leave children behind,” says Combs. “It’s something that you implement from the beginning."

"In any situation you don't separate kids and you don't leave kids behind," says fellow parent Leah Patten.

Manatee County School District officials say two parents were still at the bus stop, and they informed the district of the situation. They also say that the delay with the replacement bus was the result of an honest mistake.

"First let me state we are very sorry this happened, but it was a case of human error," says Manatee County School District representative Steve Valley. “We had a new dispatcher assigning a replacement bus, [and] unfortunately the replacement bus was sent to the wrong address."

Valley says the situation has been corrected and will likely never happen again. In the meantime, Alayna says the situation is one she won’t soon forget.

"I felt really scared and sad,” she says. “I was worried someone could have snatched me up and something bad could have happened."

The parents that spoke to ABC 7 for this story did commend the principal and assistant principle of Sea Breeze Elementary for their help in resolving the issue.