SALT LAKE CITY — After 4-year-old Miles Hulbert of Roy was left alone on a school bus for nearly two hours last September, his mother, Janel, pursued legislation to prevent similar situations from happening.
The resulting bill, sponsored by Rep. Calvin Musselman, R-West Haven, passed favorably out of the House Education Committee on Tuesday with a vote of 11-3.
House Bill 369 would require that all school bus drivers in the state inspect the entire interior of their bus at the end of each route and that the board of each local eduction agency, or LEA, that provides transportation — such as a school district or charter school — establish a specific disciplinary action or consequence in the event a driver fails to fulfill this responsibility.
“I’m very pleased this bill will move on!” Janel Hulbert wrote in a text message to the Standard-Examiner. “I believe this bill can help prevent future trauma for children and families.”
Musselman recounted the Hulbert family’s story to the committee, telling legislators about the events of Sept. 3, 2020.
The Hulberts received an ambiguous phone call that day informing them Miles would be brought home on a different bus. When Miles was dropped off, he told his parents he spent the day in the jungle. Baffled, they called his teacher at Midland Preschool, in Roy, who told them he never showed up at school.
What had actually happened, the Hulberts eventually found out, was that Miles was never let off the bus when it arrived at his school. The bus driver and an aide, who was also riding the bus, never completed a mandatory bus check before taking it back to the driver’s home and exiting the bus.
Miles, who was attending the preschool for speech therapy, didn’t cry out for help. He was also buckled in a five-point child harness attached to a seat of the bus and wasn’t able to let himself out. According to AccuWeather, the high temperature in West Haven on Sept. 3 was 92 degrees.
Since then, Janel Hulbert said, becoming emotional, the trauma Miles experienced has had “great personal impact” on her family.
After the incident, his mother said, Miles started wetting his pants again and would burst into tears at random times. He also started engaging in behaviors he used as a toddler because of his delay of speech, like screaming, biting and pinching.
Miles is currently seeing a child therapist, which has helped some, Janel Hulbert said.
“This is still a very tender thing for us,” she told the committee.
In a statement released in September, the Weber School District wrote, “There are safeguards in place to prevent students from being left unattended on school buses. One of these safety protocols requires bus drivers to walk the entire bus after each route to ensure no students are still on the bus.”
The district didn’t, however, have any disciplinary measures in place for when those protocols are violated. It ended up placing both the driver and the aide on probation for one year and moving them to different routes.
Lane Findlay, a spokesperson for the Weber School District, told the Standard-Examiner on Tuesday that the bus checks are in the district’s policy and are being enforced. It now has a discipline policy, and “termination is an option if a driver fails to follow proper safety protocols,” Findlay said.
In the aftermath of the incident, Musselman said he and the Hulberts had multiple conversations with the Weber School District. As it adjusted its policies, he said, “That brought me to think, well maybe other districts could do the same.”
This legislation, he argued, would make sure there are prevention measures in place while allowing LEAs to themselves determine how they might discipline employees who violate bus safety protocols.
Another mother whose child was left on the bus, Amanda Davis, spoke in favor of the bill. She said her 5-year-old daughter, who has special needs, was left on a bus for two and a half to three hours. Her daughter struggled to tell her mother about what happened, but Davis believes she cried herself to sleep while on the bus.
The driver, she said, had disabled an alarm at the back of the bus that is intended to remind drivers to check for children because the device had been malfunctioning.
Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, told the committee she has a son who was also left on a school bus as a kindergartener.
“He has some disabilities himself, and it was a massive setback in his education for quite some time,” she said of her son, who is now in middle school.
Granite School District spokesperson Ben Horsely and Brad Asay, president of the Utah chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, spoke against the bill. Both said they were concerned about the provision of the bill requiring LEAs to discipline drivers who violate protocol.
The legislators who were hesitant to vote in favor of the bill voiced similar concerns, with some saying they hope Musselman will reach out to more education organizations, like the Utah Association of Pupil Transportation, before it moves on to be voted on by the House of Representatives.
“I think it’s really important to support our local education agencies before we bring the conversation to a state lawmaking discussion,” said Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City.
Musselman told the committee he is open to working with “anybody” on the legislation to make sure it both protects children and is not a detriment to LEAs.
“We were really, really careful to land as soft as we could,” Musselman said.