Autistic Waterloo girl, 9, walks mile to Target after school bus drops her at wrong stop

WATERLOO — A 9-year-old autistic girl apparently walked a mile to Target Monday after a bus driver mistakenly dropped her off at home instead of at a day-care provider.

Nicole Luciano said her daughter, who is prone to wandering, left for the store after she was returned to their vacant house by a Durham School Services bus following the first morning of summer school. She described the girl as “verbal but not very communicative.” Luciano and her husband, Matt, were both at work.

She is raising concerns about the dangerous situation their daughter was put in through multiple mistakes by Waterloo Community Schools and Durham staff. The girl was wearing a lanyard indicating the proper bus routes, according to her mom. Additionally, her individualized education program indicates she should be accompanied by an adult when leaving a bus.

“I want accountability, I want action,” she said, suggesting such an incident shouldn’t ever occur. “We don’t want this to happen again.

“Any driver driving a bus with a special needs child has to be aware,” she added. “The biggest thing is she can’t advocate for herself.”

The family lives in the 1700 block of East Mitchell Avenue and Luciano noted getting to Target requires crossing a number of busy roads.

“At the very least, she crossed Ridgeway (Avenue) and she would have also crossed Mitchell. Mitchell is fairly busy, as well,” said Luciano.

The girl was supposed to arrive on a bus at the YWCA for child care by 11:15 a.m. Instead, she was put on the wrong bus at Highland Elementary School and taken home. A daycare official called Durham and then the parents and police after realizing the girl had been taken home.

Upon arriving at the home, though, they discovered the girl was missing. The family was reunited after Target reported an unaccompanied girl playing with merchandise in a toy aisle around 1 p.m.

Waterloo Schools spokeswoman Tara Thomas, contacted by The Courier, said: “We subcontract with Durham for our busing service and we will work with them and their corporate offices to determine what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Edward Flavin, director of communications for National Express LLC, Durham’s parent company, said Durham has “launched an internal investigation” into the incident.

“At Durham, the safety of our students is our number one priority. … We will work with Waterloo Schools to resolve this concerning matter to ensure it does not happen again.”

Luciano said she received assurances from the company that it would follow procedures to keep the mistake from happening again. But she filed a police report and would like to see consequences for those responsible.

“My daughter was missing for two hours,” said Luciano. “She was unsafe, she crossed busy traffic.”

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