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Disabled girl Sophie abandoned on school bus for three hours

By Laura Abernethy

Published 20/11/2015

Charlotte Kerr with her daughter Sophie as she got ready to set off for school yesterday
Charlotte Kerr with her daughter Sophie as she got ready to set off for school yesterday
Charlotte Kerr with her daughter Sophie as she got ready to set off for school yesterday

A furious father has hit out at officials after his profoundly disabled daughter was abandoned on a cold school bus for almost three hours.

Jon Kerr, from Enniskillen, said that his 17-year-old daughter Sophie would only travel to school by taxi after the incident last month.

Wheelchair user Sophie, who is unable to speak and has the mental capacity of a one-year-old, was left cold, alone and without her medication after a bus driver and her escort forgot about her outside Willowbridge special needs school on October 19.

Mr Kerr said that the bus driver dropped off other children who were able to walk, and the bus escort got a lift into town and left Sophie in the back of the coach.

He added that the driver then drove off with Sophie still in the bus and headed to the depot. Sophie was not discovered until sometime around midday.

Mr Kerr said that when she was finally found, the driver brought Sophie back to school, from where her family was called.

He added: "We were shocked. The school thought she was at a hospital appointment or she was unwell, but if that is the case, we contact the school and we let them know.

"She had no attention, no medication, no food and no hydration. The most worrying thing was that she was cold. Because of her condition, she can't regulate her body temperature. This could have been so much worse.

"She was quiet afterwards and now she does not trust adults.

"If we leave the room, she wonders if we are going to come back."

Sophie now travels to school by taxi as Mr Kerr does not trust the education authority buses.

A full investigation has been launched into the incident and Sophie's father said that he believes both the bus driver and the bus escort have been suspended.

The family want special schools across Northern Ireland to alert parents if a child does not arrive, particularly when the parents have not provided a reason.

In a statement, the education authority said it was investigating the incident.

It added: "On becoming aware of this incident, the authority took immediate action and contacted the pupil's parents to offer an unreserved apology.

"Educational authority regional managing director Barry Mulholland has also written a letter of apology to the parents, providing assurances that all necessary steps will be taken to prevent such an incident occurring again.

"The safety and wellbeing of all pupils is the authority's primary concern.

"The authority takes this incident very seriously and a robust investigation is ongoing, including a full review of processes and safeguards relating to the transportation of pupils."

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