The parents of Hunter Bergemann are concerned and “terrified” to send their son to school again after an incident with his bus driver left him missing for an hour.
The incident occurred after school had let out for the day on Wednesday. His mom, Brittany De Sa, says that Hunter, who is nine years old and has autism, was having a bad day and didn’t want to board the bus home from school. Her seven-year-old son, Damien, did his best to convince Hunter to get on the bus, but to no avail.
Then Damien did the only thing he knew to do in that situation; he asked an adult for help. He alerted the bus driver to the problem, but the driver chose to leave without Hunter anyway.
“The bus just left and my son was already walking,” says Brittany. “Then I found out later in the evening, that the bus drove right past my son and my son was waving at the bus and he just kept going.”
The boy spent an hour wandering about a mile and a half in frigid temperatures—negative six degrees with the wind chill. Meanwhile, his mother says, she was “an absolute mess” wondering what had happened.
She called her husband, who was on his way home from work and went to the school to look for him. Then he called the police and began driving up and down the streets near the school. Hunter’s and Damien’s teachers also drove around looking for him.
“I was terrified. I was pacing up and down my house, waiting for my husband to call, calling him every few minutes, seeing if he’d heard anything,” she recalls.
Hunter was eventually found a little more than half a mile from the school, scared and freezing.
“When he got home, I couldn’t let go of him. He was crying, I was crying, my husband was crying,” Brittany remembers. “We were all crying. We were so relieved he was home and that he was safe.”
Brittany says the bus driver has been driving Hunter since last year, and he’s been informed that the boy has autism.
Hunter’s stepdad, Andriano De Sa, says he recalls telling the driver that “he just needs a little bit of understanding and care.”
But the bus company, Hertz Northern Bus Lines, says they were not previously aware that Hunter had autism.
“Whether that was recorded or not, I don’t know,” Andriano says. “But they know Hunter. They know our kids because it’s the same driver. For him to not think about it for a second, I’m floored.”
The bus company also said there was not a formal plan in place for the boy before, but now they have a set protocol for what to do in the event that something like this happens again. In the future, if Hunter refuses to board the bus, the driver will contact the school and have them send out a teacher who can keep him safe until a parent is able to pick him up.
Unless there is a plan in place like this, the company claims it cannot track which children ride the bus on which days and cannot be held responsible if they never board the bus.
According to the Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS) division that Hunter’s school is a part of, “It’s simply not feasible for a driver to track which students are supposed to ride each trip.”
Derrick Kunz, communications consultant for GSCS, reiterated that students who need extra monitoring can get it via a formal plan like the one in place now for Hunter. He also says keeping track of students’ whereabouts is a shared responsibility and isn’t only on the bus drivers. Two teachers are also supposed to be stationed near the doors of the school to ensure the children’s safety as they are boarding the buses. These teachers are supposed to care for students at the level of “reasonable, prudent parents.”
“I’m not even entirely sure they can keep an eye on all of the kids that are over by the bus,” Andriano says. “Obviously, they’re not keeping track of the kids that are or are not getting on the bus.”
Andriano and Brittany believe they should be able to rely on their children’s teachers and bus drivers to make better judgment calls regardless of whether there is an individual care plan in place to ensure their safety.
Andriano calls it “fairly concerning” that the protocol put in place for Hunter is not used for all students who don’t get on the bus as they’re supposed to.
“Any kid can have a bad day,” he says. “It could end worse for any child, not just mine.”
Thank goodness Hunter’s story didn’t end badly. Hopefully, this near-miss can help encourage school leaders to put protocols in place to protect other children from a worse outcome.Whizzco