CIRCLEVILLE - A bus driver for the Circleville City School district has been charged with child endangerment and a teacher has been disciplined after two preschool students were left alone on a bus last week.
Beth Mason, the bus driver, will face the first-degree misdemeanor charge, which was filed Monday by the Circleville Police Department, in Circleville Municipal Court. Mason, who has been on paid administrative leave since the day of the incident, also was notified Monday of the district's intent to terminate her employment contract, according to Jonathan Davis, superintendent.
Sara Hammond, preschool teacher at Circleville Elementary School, also received a formal reprimand Monday for failure to follow district protocol that could have helped discover the issue much sooner, Davis said.
Mason is accused of failing to check the bus after dropping off preschool students at Circleville Elementary School at 1:15 p.m. Jan. 25 and leaving two students, ages 3 and 4, sleeping inside.
According to the police report, Mason parked the bus on the lot at 1:30 p.m. and did not discover the sleeping children until she returned to begin her next route about 70 minutes later at 2:40 p.m.
The students were still sleeping when they were discovered, according to the police report, and neither suffered any injury from the incident.
"Our transportation department understands the importance of the state law to clear each bus at the end of each route, has added signs on each bus to remind drivers to do so and is looking into advanced reminder systems for further measure," Davis said.
Hammond, he said, was reprimanded for failing to follow attendance protocol the day of the incident by not entering student absences into the Progressbook for afternoon preschool students, which could have minimized the time the students were left unattended on the bus.
"This protocol has been in place for years and works on a daily basis for all 2,200 students," Davis said. "It is extremely unfortunate that the mistakes on this day caused such an unfortunate event. With that being said, we have taken added precautions for daily attendance at CES, including the timing of attendance, how it is taken and a daily check to ensure its accuracy."
While Hammond's disciplinary action is a reprimand and agreement to strictly follow district protocol in the future, Mason's was the issuance of a pre-termination notice, Davis said.
A pre-disciplinary conference is set for Wednesday, he said, at which time Mason has the opportunity to respond informally before any action is taken by the Board of Education. In the official notice, Davis wrote, "I anticipate that [the board] will adopt a resolution terminating your employment, with a full specification of the grounds for such action, in public session on February 8th, 2017, at 7 p.m."
"First and foremost, we are blessed and thankful that both students involved in this situation are OK, as they are our main priority," Davis said. "Student safety is the most paramount responsibility of all educators, and throughout this process, the staff members in question have been forthright in their failure to follow mandatory protocol to ensure student safety on this day. The discipline rendered reflects the district's belief in student safety and staff expectations."
Davis said the district also worked closely with each student's parents to ensure the students were safe and to keep them informed throughout the last five days.
"I feel it imperative to share my gratitude to both families and to inform you how forgiving and collaborative they have been throughout this process, as well as for their genuine interest in ensuring the implementation of any necessary added safety measures," Davis said. "This was a terribly unfortunate event, and I'm thankful both students are OK, and I am confident that the steps we have taken over the last week only further enhanced student safety at CCS."