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BETHLEHEM — A Bethlehem Central School District bus dropped off student Michael Seavey at his work site on Monday, April 1 at around 11:15 a.m. As he alighted, the bus left while he approached the building, only to discover it was locked and there was no one nearby to help him.
According to his parents, Michael could not call anyone. The 21-year-old autistic student, who is in his last school year, had not been allowed to bring his cellphone. He left his phone at the high school. Michael’s mother also said he could not search for anyone nearby to help him as he struggles with his communication skills. Even if he had found someone for help, she said he could not communicate easily with them to explain what happened.
The work site — Michael’s parents requested this article omit the site’s name and location — was where Seavey was supposed to continue his work-to-school program as part of his regular special needs curriculum. His daily schedule consisted of a few classes in the morning, lunch, then being transported off to his work site from 11:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., and returning to school for a few more classes.
But with no help or communication device, Michael was left standing outside alone in 30-degree weather until a school bus returned two hours later to pick him up as scheduled.
Michael’s mother, Tina, said, “He can’t be alone. I mean, thank God nothing happened to him, but ever since the incident, he won’t leave the house. I can’t get him to go to the doctor so his school psychiatrist had to come in and see him. He’s also been having panic attacks and he thinks it’s a heart attack. He’s struggling with post-traumatic stress and he doesn’t feel ready to go back to school or the work site.”
She explained that the work site’s owner apparently had been out of town and one of his employees forgot to communicate that to her prior to the day of the incident. While the owner eventually contacted and apologized to her, Tina reached out to the school district too and was especially concerned that the school bus left without waiting for Michael to at least try entering the building. She said it was a small bus that catered specifically to special needs students; there was also an aide who was supposed to physically accompany the alighting student onto the street level; and the bus was to stay put until the student safely reached his or her destination.
“I have not found out who the bus driver was that day but if I do, I may lose it,” she said. “The bus was not supposed to leave while a special needs student is still getting towards their destination. But the bus just drove away from what I gather. In Michael’s case, it should take him just two or three seconds to get to the work site’s door.”
Tina said that the district’s Special Education and Students Services director Kathleen Johnston and superintendent Jody Monroe answered her calls, and listened to her concerns. “But the high school principal has not called me once which is upsetting to my husband and I,” she said. “You’d think the principal would care for him.”
She brought up, however, that the district has plans to schedule a meeting between her family, Johnston and BCHS Principal David Doemel, Jr to further address the situation and discuss possible improvements in the district’s protocols on safely transporting special needs students.
Spotlight News has reached out to the school district and relevant individuals for comment and to confirm details. The former provided an emailed statement, acknowledging it as an isolated incident and that it took “immediate action to ensure it would not happen again.”
“Something like this should never happen and is absolutely unacceptable,” said Monroe. “We have put in place new transportation protocols for our work program students to make sure this does not happen again. … Additionally, we are working to improve the communication with our business partners who host our students.”
The statement, however, did not elaborate on the nature of the “new transportation protocols.”
Tina, who believed her son was neglected that day, said she was “overwhelmed with fear for my son and I was scared that he was all alone for two hours. From a mother’s perspective, I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. It’s heartbreaking and there was nothing Michael could’ve done in the moment.”
She concluded that the district should keep to its word about changing its protocols and teach its bus drivers and aides how to better handle special needs students, regardless of the students’ ages.