A school bus driver and an aide have been fired for dropping off an autistic girl at the wrong address almost three miles away from her home last Thursday.
Maria Alago, mother of the 11-year-old girl, said her daughter was being transported from the New Beginnings School, an institution for special needs students, in Fairfield to her home on Cliff Street. But that’s not what happened on Thursday. A substitute driver and a new bus aide working for Jersey Kids Transportation dropped off her girl, Anex Marie Alago, to a home on 22nd Avenue.
“She should be home at 3:45 p.m. — around that time she gets home,” said Alago. On that day, she figured the bus was running late. Then, at 4:06 p.m., she received a call from Michael Farrelly, principal of the New Beginnings School operated by the Gramon Family of Schools, who asked her if she knew a specific address on 22nd Avenue.
“Yes, it’s around here in Paterson,” she told the principal. He told her Anex was dropped off at that location by mistake, she said.
Farrelly did not respond to a message for his input for this story.
“I was shaken. The first thing that came to mind was calling 911,” said Alago. She told the operator her daughter, who cannot respond or speak due to autism, was dropped off by the bus at a specific address on 22nd Avenue.
The male operator told her to drive to the location and pick up her daughter or call the bus company. She was then told to hold on, but the operator hung up. She then dialed the Transportation Department at the Paterson School District.
Alago said the woman at the district was in disbelief that a child could be dropped off at a wrong home. “She said, let me just contact the driver,” recollected Alago. After she got off the phone, she contacted her landlord and friend, Vivian Rodriguez, who drove from Hackensack to the 22nd Avenue home to return Anex to her mother.
“I couldn’t drive. I was shaken. I’d have had an accident,” said Alago. Her friend picked up the girl from the 22nd Avenue home and brought her to the mother.
“Thank God it had a happy ending. My daughter is safe,” said Alago. “I don’t have to say thank you to the authorities; my daughter is safe because of my friend.” In this case, law enforcement failed to assist her, she said.
Alago said she later called the police headquarters to file a report of the incident. A police unit was dispatched to her home, but the officers would not write up a report, she said. She visited the police department on Saturday and filed a report herself, she said.
Alago shared the situation as it related to the 911 call and police interactions with council members. She said police should have taken a report of the incident.
“We cannot overlook this situation. Fortunately, the family that received your child was a very good family,” said Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman, who represents the area where the family lives. He urged the administration to review the 911 call to ensure the operator followed proper procedure in this situation.
Alago learned more about the incident after her friend returned with the child. She said the aide took the child to the door of the 22nd Avenue home. An aged man opened the door and she went inside.
“She’s like a one-year old,” said the mother. The girl sat on the coach until the elderly man’s son arrived at the home. The son saw a strange girl on the sofa and tried to inquire. Anex cannot respond or speak due to her disability, said the mother.
The elderly man’s son saw the school’s logo on her backpack and contacted the school. The city’s school district sends students with disabilities like Alago’s daughter to the New Beginnings School.
Anex was dropped off at the 22nd Avenue location because a child from that home attends the same Fairfield school, but on that day that student remained at the school for an after school activity, said the mother.
Jackson, who is the chairman of the public safety committee, said he will arrange a meeting between the mother and police brass.
“I don’t have any facts on it,” said police director Jerry Speziale when told of her experience relating to police. He declined to comment.
“I just want to scream everywhere so this doesn’t happen again,” said the mother. She suggested implementing a photo identification system with student addresses to prevent similar mistakes by bus drivers or aides in the future.
“As our students safety is of utmost importance, we will be looking into adding photo IDs to include address information for children placed at this school,” said Terry Corallo, spokeswoman for the Paterson Public Schools.
Corallo said the district’s transportation department has apologized to the mother and assured her both the driver and the bus aide have been fired for this incident.
A message left at the Jersey Kids Transportation, the bus company involved in the incident, went unanswered on Wednesday.