BALDWIN COUNTY, Ga. — A Baldwin County mother is asking the school district for answers. Sherica Bell says her seventh-grader Akeela left Oak Hill Middle School last Thursday, September 22 on the wrong bus.
After her younger kids told her Akeela wasn't on the bus, she began checking the school and reaching out to friends. When no one knew where she was, she got nervous.
"I called the sheriff's office and filed a report. As they looked, she came home around after 7, like 7:15," she says
Bell says she spent several hours looking for Akeela, so when her neighbor called saying she was at home, she was shocked.
"I was just in shock. I was like, 'She's at home?' That's all I could say," she adds
Bell says that was three hours later than she should have been dropped off.
"When I got home, the sheriff was there and I was like, 'Where were you?' She was like, 'Mom, I was on the bus,'" Bell says
The night got more surprising from there.
"She was like, 'I was on the bus. The lady stopped at the store, the lady went to her sister's house.' Now I'm like, 'Why would she feel free to take you to her sister's house or to the store with no excuse?'" Bell says
Akeela told her mom that the driver dropped off all the students on her route then she made a few stops. Akeela says she was awake the entire ride, and shared conversation with the driver.
"'We sat on the bus, we talked. She told me about my brother was being bad, that he probably wasn't going to ride the bus anymore,'" Akeela told her mom
Akeela also told her mother that she never left the bus when the driver would stop. Instead, she stayed put on the bus in the 96-degree weather.
Bell says the situation could have gotten worse.
"What if she would have gotten off the bus while the lady was in her sister's house and went where she wanted to go?"
Since her kids have ridden the bus, changing buses without a parent-signed slip has never been allowed. When she called the district about the incident, they told her this was not protocol.
"I spoke with the lady at the bus garage, she told me that the lady had broke the rules. She wasn't supposed to let my child on the bus without a note, she should have turned her around," she says.
Bell was very concerned that the driver didn't think to call her before letting Akeela get on the bus.
"She didn't think, as an adult, 'Let me call your mother?' 'If I am going to help you because you got bus-left, let me call your mother and let her know,'" she says
Bell asked the district to have access to the camera footage from the bus, something she says she has had access to before. She says they told her they would not release the footage.
"I just want to know where my daughter went in between this time, I need to know," she says.
Bell says all she wants is the footage from the bus, and she hopes the district will be tighter on student safety.
We reached out to Eric Jones of the Baldwin County School District. Baldwin County Schools responded with the following statement:
"Parents may contact the school to grant permission for their child to ride on another bus. Once the parental permission is vetted and approved by the principal or designee, an official bus pass is presented to the student that can then be presented to the bus driver upon boarding the bus. Bus drivers shall not allow any students to board their bus without an official bus pass.
Buses are equipped with a Child Remind Button located in the interior rear of each bus. Upon parking the bus, the bus driver is required to walk to the back of the bus to disengage the sound by pressing the Child Remind Button before the service door can be opened. This bus safety feature reminds the driver to check every seat for any remaining students before exiting the bus.
Bus video footage involving multiple students cannot be viewed by parents or other students unless the video footage is subpoenaed. This policy is in effect due to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which protects the privacy of student education records including video footage.
Please note that we take the safety and security of our students very seriously. The bus driver is not currently driving a bus. Since this is a personnel issue, we are not able to discuss or comment on this matter."