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School bus driver fired after driving off with 12-year-old girl

12:51 AM, Nov 1, 2013   |    comments
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Cheryl Rodgers, at her home in Rockdale County, Wednesday, October 30, 2013

ROCKDALE COUNTY, Ga. -- The driver of a Rockdale County school bus who drove off with a 12-year-old girl on board, without the permission of the girl's mother, was fired on Thursday.

The mother of that middle-schooler is saying that what happened to her daughter on the school bus Tuesday is "bizarre," and she wants the driver arrested.

The mom, Cheryl Rogers, said Thursday night she is relieved the driver was fired.

The spokesperson for the Rockdale County School System wrote in a statement Thursday afternoon, "...the driver violated our normal operating procedures and protocols. This person is no longer driving in our district."

It was on Tuesday afternoon when the school bus driver, for some reason, drove off with the girl instead of dropping her off.

Rodgers jumped into her car and chased the school bus to get her daughter back.

"You don't just take someone's child, and take 'em wherever you want," Rodgers said Wednesday. "It was just bizarre."

The bus stop is right across the street from their house, in Rockdale County.

The girl's 13 year old sister rides the same bus, and Rodgers said that when the 13 year old got off the bus and walked into the house she told her that the 12 year old was still on the bus and the driver wanted to talk with Rodgers.

Rodgers walked out the front door, and, "I look, and the bus is gone."

And her 12 year old was still on it.

The 12 year old said Wednesday that the driver had asked her to stay on the bus. "She said, 'Would you mind if you stayed on the bus?'"

"She never had my consent for my daughter to stay on the bus," Rodgers said, "it's not up to her to make that decision."

Rodgers sped up Salem Road, looking for the school bus, calling 911.

"I'm sure I was in a frenzy, but I told them, I said, 'I believe my daughter's just been kidnapped.' And that's really, honestly, how I felt."

Rodgers was able to flag down a Rockdale County Sheriff's Deputy, and by then they both had the school bus in sight.

The deputy pulled in behind the bus and stopped it, two miles from the Rodgers' home.

Video from the school bus, released to 11Alive News on Friday by Rockdale County Public Schools, shows the driver, Jennifer Foster of Conyers, pulling up to the girls' bus stop at 4:25 Tuesday afternoon. The younger girl is sitting in the front seat, and Foster asks her if she wants to stay on the bus instead of getting off, because Foster wanted her to help with some paperwork during the rest of the route.

"You want to?" Foster asks, "and I bring you back? Your mama be all right with it?"

"I don't know," the girl replies.

"You may need to ask her," Foster says, as the girl's older sister steps off of the bus. Foster said later she thought the older sister was going to let the mom know that the younger sister was staying on the bus.

And at that, without getting the mom's permission, Foster shuts the bus's door and pulls away with the girl still sitting in the front seat.

"The bus driver does not wait for parental permission for the student to remain on the bus," said Cindy Ball of Rockdale County Public Schools on Friday as she showed the video to 11Alive News.

Ball said that's only one of the reasons Foster was fired two days later. Other reasons, she said, include several safety violations that were caught on tape during this incident, including speeding.

The video shows the girl helping with the paperwork, which consisted of Foster telling her to write down descriptions of every turn on the route and descriptions of every stop -- a detailed log of the route that drivers must keep current and turn in to supervisors periodically.

At 4:46 pm, 21 minutes later, Foster doubles back and drops off the girl at her bus stop in front of her house.

During those 21 minutes, Rodgers had been driving up and down Salem Road looking for the bus.

On the school bus video, the dispatcher is heard talking to Foster on the two-way radio, since the dispatcher has just been informed that Rodgers is trying to get her daughter off of the bus.  Foster replies, "I just dropped her off at the house," without telling the dispatcher that she had also taken the girl away for 21 minutes. 

Rodgers then spots the bus and honks her horn repeatedly.

Foster sees Rodgers and shouts out of her window, "I dropped her off at the house."

Rodgers said later that she never heard what Foster said, and she drove after the bus thinking her daughter was on board.

"She crazy, she crazy," Foster is heard saying on the video.

Finally, the Rockdale County Sheriff's Deputy pulls the bus over, and Foster insists she did nothing behind the mother's back.

"Her sister said, 'I'll tell my mother.' So I didn't kidnap the girl."

The deputies decided that since the girl was safe at home, they would not charge Foster, but let the school system handle it.

11Alive News is trying, but has so far been unable, to contact Foster for comment about the incident

Rodgers said Foster has been her daughters' driver on that route for two years without incident, until now.

"I have every intent to press charges, criminal [charges], absolutely," Rodgers said.

And she has already had a long talk with her daughter.

"My mom, she was saying I'm too spontaneous, 'cause I am. I'm very spontaneous. She said you can't just go off with someone that you don't even know like that until they have permission by my mom or a trusted adult. And then the police officer, he was saying that even though the bus driver was my bus driver for two years, I could still be 'gettable.' He was saying you did not know her intentions, meaning like she could have kidnapped me, she could have killed me, whatever. I was thinking like, wow, that could have been, that was really serious."

Here is the full statement from the spokesperson for Rockdale County Public Schools:

Rockdale County Public Schools requires formal background and reference checks on all potential employees, not just bus drivers. We have strict protocols and procedures that our drivers must adhere to and we take swift and appropriate action when these are not followed. Preliminary findings of our investigation of this incident do conclude that the driver violated our normal operating procedures and protocols. This person is no longer driving in our district.

Rodgers read the statement and said she is concerned about how closely the school system monitors drivers to make sure they continue to be fit for duty after they are hired, to try to prevent possible incidents, not just react to them.

"Honestly, I think that's the key word, 'monitoring.' It's not just about them knowing what they did before they were hired, but how about three months from now, six months from now, like what's going on?.... Because there are a lot of good ones out there. We've just got to sort out the good ones from the bad.... And they know it's very easy to manipulate children, especially in an environment where they're comfortable. And most children are abducted by someone that they knew and felt comfortable going with. And clearly, in this particular instance, my daughter felt quite comfortable, thinking nothing of it, 'It's a school official, sure, I'll help her out.'"

Cindy Ball, the school system spokesperson, said Friday that drivers are monitored closely and constantly, by supervisors and field supervisors and dispatchers, every moment the drivers are on their routes.

One of Foster's violations, Ball said, was that for part of the time during her drive with the girl, she turned off her two-way radio and dispatchers could not contact her.

"One of the things that we would like to look into in the future," Ball said, "is live GPS for our buses, so that we can increase that safety, know exactly at any minute where our buses are."

Rockdale County has 153 school buses, and more than 800 routes.  72 percent of the school district's 16,000 students -- about 11,500 -- ride the school buses.

 

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