Like mothers everywhere, Shawna Blackwood cried on her kindergartners' first day of school.
But unlike most moms, her tears came from terror when the school bus didn't let her daughter and nephew off in the afternoon.
Blackwood was waving at the foot of her nearby driveway and thought she'd locked eyes with the driver when the bus rolled by.
A quick call to the school principal, and the bus was ordered back to McLendon Elementary School, but Blackwood and her sister-in-law soon had reason to fear the worst.
In an account school officials don't dispute, the mothers say they were confronted by a disgruntled driver who claimed no knowledge of their 5-year-olds.
"I said, 'Where are the children," Shawna Blackwood recalled. "She said, 'What kids?'"
Shawna Blackwood melted away in tears, but her sister-in-law pushed onto the bus, with the principal standing nearby. It was packed with older students — the driver apparently having stopped to collect another load after completing her elementary run.
Adelaide Blackwood said the driver was surly by now. The woman allegedly said she'd let all her younger riders off and checked the bus afterward. The Blackwoods' little boy and girl were not aboard.
The Blackwoods imagined their 5-year-olds wandering the streets — alone, afraid and lost. But soon, they had another reason to cry. The shouting apparently awakened one of the children: "That's when my niece raised her head and said, 'auntie, I'm right here."
Little Giselle Blake had been sleeping. Adelaide Blackwood's son, Joshua, was still snoozing by her side, and missed the whole thing. As far as he knew, it was a normal first day of school.
But the elder Blackwoods knew better. The Georgia school bus driver manual says drivers are supposed to check their buses for sleeping children after a trip. The Blackwoods filed a formal complaint the next day, when Shawna Blackwood said the principal apologized for the driver's behavior. The two moms say they got assurances from school officials that the driver would be dealt with. But when Adelaide Blackwood saw the driver behind the wheel of another bus soon after, she emailed the superintendent, the school board and several media outlets.
"We want answers," the email said.
Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson ordered the bus driver, who is not being identified by the school system, suspended pending the conclusion of an investigation this week, with possible repercussions for the officials involved, system spokesman Jeff Dickerson said Tuesday. "I'm not so sure that [the superintendent's] outrage over this event will end with the bus driver," Dickerson said. "She is pretty upset."
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