Huntsville parent says communication needs to improve for parents trying to locate children while on bus

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - A Huntsville mother wrote an open letter-- expressing her concerns for the lack of communication between the parents, school system, and bus drivers. Her child was nearly two hours late coming home from school on Monday, August 15.

That's two hours a parent didn't know where her child was -- with no way of finding out.

Nichole Stone works from home. Every day at 3:30, like clockwork, her son Parker gets off the bus. "I keep my eye on the clock, especially when I know my kid is coming home, because that's a smile to a long day," said Stone.

But on Monday, 3:30 came and went. "I don't really get nervous if it's within 15," said Stone.

But by 4:00, she still hadn't seen her son. "Maybe the bus was late?"

She ran three houses down to the bus stop, then went down another block. Listening. Hoping to hear the sound of a bus engine.

"To give me a sign he was coming. Anything," said Stone.

There was no bus.

"I took a deep breath," said Stone. "I called Whitesburg. I called Durham. Twice. No answer."

Just a prompt for a message. "I wasn't going to leave a message. I wanted to know where my kid was."

She called the Huntsville Police Department.  And by 5:00, her son was home. "He’d been crying." He was nearly two hours late. He'd been on the bus the whole time -- but how was Stone to know? There was no one she could find to contact.

"The HPD resources would not have had to have been used -- my family wouldn't have been up in arms," she said.

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On Tuesday, Stone reached out to Huntsville City Schools, hoping to be able to help solve such a scary scenario for other parents. "No parent should feel that for an hour and a half. Complete and utter terror."

But she says there was no collaboration. Just premeditated responses.

"It made me feel, if they don't pay attention to it then it doesn't exist," said Stone.

But to her, there's a glaring problem. "Somebody's got to say something before one of our kids doesn't make it home," said Stone.

"From the time they leave the school to the time the bus pulls back into the Durham lot, there should be open lines of communication between the school system, parents and the bus system," said Stone.

Stone also emailed a number of people on Wednesday to describe the ordeal in great detail.  She emailed Scott Gillies, Director of Transportation for Huntsville City Schools, Superintendent Casey Wardynski and other system administrators, all school board members and Mayor Tommy Battle.  She received a response from school board member Walker McGinnis who said he had already taken steps to follow up on the matter.

WHNT News 19 took action and reached out to Huntsville City Schools.  We also reached out to Durham Services, but received no response from the bus company about this.

Late Wednesday, Keith Ward, spokesperson for Huntsville City Schools called our newsroom with information to say the boy had fallen asleep on the bus and missed his stop, which was the first one on the route.  Ward said the driver was alerted after the child woke up, but by that time, the bus was near the end of its route.

Ward said the driver circled back to start of the route and was about two blocks away from the child's stop when Huntsville Police pulled over the bus.

Ward said Huntsville City Schools is working with Durham School Services on a communication app that would allow parents to send urgent messages to bus services.

Mother's response

Nichole Stone disputes the school system's claim that her son was asleep. So does her son.

"Parker and I watched the story together and he looked at me and said, 'Momma I wasn’t asleep.  That man must not have looked at the camera.'  All HCS buses have cameras so this should be easily retrieved and confirmed that Parker was not asleep on the bus.  This was a shameful response by HCS where they in effect tried to smooth over the issue and blame an 8-year-old little boy.  Even if this were true, that is not the issue, the issue is the lack of communication from the time our children get on the bus until the time they get home."

Stone said school board member Walker McGinnis continues to be in communication with her about the incident.

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