Every morning, Paula Aparecida, 40, watches her son Leo ride the school bus and last Monday was no exception. At 9.35 that day, the boy, 11 years old and with an intellectual disability of 45%, got into the vehicle at a stop near the Severo Ochoa hospital, in Leganés, along with four other colleagues and a monitor. In just over 20 minutes they arrived at the school, the Alfonso X el Sabio special education center. Everyone went down except Leo. He had fallen asleep in the back seat and no one noticed. The bus, small, with about 25 seats, continued on its way to the garages, located in a polygon of Alcorcón, where the driver got off, without checking the interior, closed and left. The child, who is diagnosed with autism and sometimes has difficulty communicating, was locked inside, as Cadena SER has advanced this Monday.
"We thought he was at school," the mother told this newspaper by phone. Leo's school day ends at 15:30 p.m. and Paula Aparecida was getting dressed to go to the bus stop when she received a call from her husband:
―Where is Leo?
―Where? In class.
"The police called me.
It was 14.50 p.m. "They tell him that they have the child, that they have found him disoriented and wandering alone through the streets of Alcorcón," Aparecida continues. None of them knew what was going on. The father then got into the car, "desperate", and drove everything running. He arrived at the police station of this town and there the agents repeated what his son had told them minutes before and that appears in the complaint filed against the center and against the transport company.
Leo remembers riding the bus, deciding to sit in the back and no one buckling him up. The next thing is that he woke up, a little dazed, in the same place, but the vehicle no longer moved and he did not recognize anything he saw through the window. "She doesn't know what time it was, but it was very hot," says the mother. Seeing himself alone, he walked to the front and began honking, hoping someone would see him and get him out.
Then, he continues with the account of the events Aparecida, a man approached – they do not know if he was a worker of the transport company, Autocares Puesta del Sol S.L – who opened the door and, without a word with the child, told him that he was going to call the police. "As soon as she sees him, she doesn't offer to help him, or anything," she says.
"Why didn't you wait?" asked the mother at home.
"Because he left and left me alone.
Frightened, Leo left the garages, located behind the R-5 ring road, and began to walk, aimlessly. "He didn't know where he was, he was looking for us, he was looking for school...", recalls Aparecida with horror. He walked and walked until he reached an Aldi supermarket, about two kilometers from where he had left. He went in and asked one of the employees to let him use the service. According to the mother's account, the worker saw that the child was alone, with his backpack on his back, that it was difficult for him to speak and he looked lost. It was she who called the police, who contacted the school and then the family. In the cameras of the establishment it marked that it was 14.22.
"No one calls me from school to tell me [that the child hasn't been to class]. Nor do I get the message from the application saying that it is not there. I have other children and they always warn," Aparecida criticizes. Last Friday, Leo's mother made an appointment to talk to the management and explain what happened. "But nobody knows anything. Neither they, nor the driver, nor the monitor. That has been an oversight. Yes, a mistake that could have ended my son's life," he laments. In addition to having autism, Leo suffers from epilepsy and could have had a seizure, the mother adds.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Education of the Community of Madrid points out that this Monday they have sent the Educational Inspection to the center to prepare an "urgent" report and that they will open a file to the company that carries out the route and the school "to debug responsibilities". This newspaper has contacted the school, which has indicated that the management is meeting this morning and that they will attend once the meeting ends.
The AMPA (Association of Parents of Students) of the center has sent a complaint to the direction of southern area – the regional body responsible for schools in the area – for having "endangered" Leo and for "committing several serious negligences". "The health services are evaluating the injuries caused to the minor, but in any case from the AMPA we consider what happened very serious, one more event in a service that causes problems every year and repeatedly," they denounce in the letter.
According to the parents' association, there have been "dangerous" situations on "numerous" occasions due to "lack of experience, training and stability" of those who provide the school transport service. "The protocols of action have failed both in the different transport companies and in the public school," they criticize and add that some of the incidents have been communicated to the Administration or the direction of the center, and that others have been resolved between the families themselves and the bus company. "Training on disability should be given to professionals (drivers and monitors) who provide the service. The high turnover of workers is very striking," they claim in the text.
Leo's family doesn't know what to do, because it's not the first time they've forgotten their son on the bus. On January 11, after school, the boy got on the bus to go home, but did not arrive. "It is assumed, because they did not tell me otherwise, that there was a new monitor who kept a list of the children, where my son's did not come out and that in the garage they realized that there was a minor still in the vehicle. Then I didn't say anything, but I can't let it go," says Aparecida. This Monday, Leo has returned to school after a week, although this time they have taken him by car. "He is very nervous, anxious and it gave him something to enter," said the mother, shortly before the start of classes. "My son doesn't go back up on a route," he says.
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