A bus company says it's fired a driver who failed to drop a four-year-old child off at his Ottawa school Friday and instead drove him to the company's parking lot, some 40 kilometres away in Clarence-Rockland, Ont.
The incident happened on Friday morning, the child's first day back at École élémentaire publique Francojeunesse in Sandy Hill.
Rima Zayed, his mother, wanted to drive him to school in order to go over some COVID-19 safety measures — but he insisted on taking the bus.
"So she said, 'OK.' She dropped him and his brother at the bus stop and she went to wait for him at the entrance of the school," said Yasmine Benali, a family friend who acted as a translator in an interview with CBC News Saturday.
Benali said Francojeunesse has two school bus drop off points, one for the elementary school and one for the kindergarten. Zayed's elder son was dropped off at the elementary school, but her younger son, Bader, never got off the bus at the kindergarten building.
After notifying the school that Bader didn't show up, Zayed went to the elementary school to ask her elder son if Bader had gotten off the bus with him — but he said no.
At this point, around 9:30 a.m., the school called the bus company, Roxborough Bus Lines, to find out if they had the child.
Nick McRae, president of the bus company, told CBC News the call came in just as the bus was pulling into the company's parking lot in Clarence-Rockland, Ont.
"When the driver came back to the yard, the student was still in the bus, which is not following our policies," he said.
The boy was driven back to the school, where he arrived around 10:30 a.m.
Failed to complete mandatory check
McRae said while Roxborough Bus Lines is still investigating what happened, it was clear the driver failed to check if there were any children still on the bus before leaving the school.
He said the driver has been dismissed, and all other drivers have been sent memos stressing the importance of doing the mandatory child checks.
The company is reviewing all its policies, and McRae said they are going to work with the school board and the Consortium de Transport to make sure something like this doesn't happen in the future.
"We deeply regret how this happened," he said.
It was shocking, and we're very upset about it. - Nancy Daigneault, School Bus Ontario executive director
Nancy Daigneault, executive director of School Bus Ontario, said what happened was unacceptable.
"It was shocking, and we're very upset about it," she said.
Daigneault said her organization is conducting its own investigation and stressed that school bus travel is still a safe way to send children to school.
"It's very rare. It doesn't happen very often. Once every few years you hear about this," she said. "We safely transport 833,000 [children] to and from school everyday."
Won't take the bus for a while
After the incident, the family wrote to the Consortium de Transport detailing what happened, and have received both a reply with an apology and a report from the bus company.
While the family appreciates the response, they said they still have some questions around the report.
They also said they won't be sending their sons on the bus anytime soon, as Bader is still shaken by the experience and says he doesn't want to go back to school.
"We really hope that he won't have any fear of going back to school on Tuesday," Benali said. "But this is still to be discovered."