Special-needs student taken to wrong home.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — A child with Down syndrome was sent to the wrong home after school, leading his mother to cry foul on the contracted driving service working for Wake County Schools.
The incident occurred Monday. Austin Creek neighborhood resident Jennifer Crank was startled when Associated Cab Company, contracted to bring her 4-year-old son Austin home from Wakefield Elementary, called at 4:50 p.m. from an address across town, 40 minutes after he was supposed to have been brought home.
“I was able to answer a phone call from a lady, Stephanie Smith, who stated she is the safety monitor in the cab service,” Crank detailed in an e-mail to county officials. “Ms. Smith asked me if anyone was home at my home. I said yes… She said that the driver honked on the horn and no one came outside. I told her to go knock on the door. She stated there was a dog and they did not want to get out of the vehicle. I stated I don’t have a dog.
“Then I asked where they were located. She said on Wall Road. … I directed her to tell me her location as I would meet the car service there and pick up who I hoped was my son. Neither she nor the driver knew where they were other than someplace on Wall Road.”
It took them another 55 minutes to get her son home, said Crank, arriving at 5:45 p.m.
“I am appalled and horrified that this has happened to me and my son,” she wrote, noting she’s had complaints about the company before.
In March, Austin fell asleep in his seat on the way home and the driver forgot he was there, she said.
At other times, his car seat has been improperly fastened, with the straps loose.
She’s dealt with the company for two years.
“The lady this past spring was put on a probation. The owner of company said ‘We’re going to make changes,’” Crank said, but she’s not convinced that has happened or will be enforced in the future.
After speaking to other parents in her son’s program, she’s found several have had similar complaints.
“It’s ridiculous. I don’t want the drivers always blamed, if they didn’t get training,” she added. “The administration running this company is inept.”
Crank has already been contacted by a Wake Schools assistant superintendent in charge of transportation for special needs kids and an investigation is underway to see where the problem lies.
“The district is aware of the parent’s concern. The district is concerned as well,” said Renee McCoy, spokesperson for Wake County Schools.
The school system transports about 3,000 children using 8-10 private vendors like Associated Cab, McCoy said.
The vendors offer specialized vehicles and home pickup and drop-off for students with special needs, including kids in wheelchairs, and others with disabilities such as autism and cerebral palsy.
The vendors’ contract states that “[w]hen substitute or replacement drivers are authorized, vendor shall ensure that such drivers are properly trained and informed regarding route assignments and the special transportation needs of each student to be transported,” McCoy noted in an e-mail.
Crank contacted Tom Benton, District 1 school board member, and other officials, to prevent other such issues from occurring in the future. But she’s already sworn-off using Associated Cab again, a difficult decision for a single working mother.
For the remainder of the school year, about two weeks, she’s arranging for friends and family members to take her son to school and bring him home.
In the fall, he’ll be attending Rolesville Elementary. Even if the drive is provided by another contractor, she’s not sure what she’ll do at that time.
“Most people that have had to deal with these contracted vendors have had horrible experiences,” she said.
An Associated Cab Company supervisor was not immediately available for comment.