The parents of a 6-year-old boy with special needs have sued the Ascension Parish School Board, alleging their child was left on a school bus for several hours in February unattended after suffering a seizure.
Only after the child’s mother got an automated call that morning, Feb. 3, saying her son was not in school at Sorrento Primary was he found on the bus, the suit says.
From what the bus video shows, the driver had driven the bus to her home and locked it up, leaving the child inside, said the parents’ attorney, Arita Bohannan, of Kenner.
The bus video shows the child, Anthony, suffering a seizure during the bus ride to the school and then left unattended for more than four hours, according to the suit, which was filed May 13 in 23rd Judicial District Court.
“The entire incident has been just a huge tragedy,” Anthony’s mother, Ann Fugarino, said Tuesday. “I can’t believe they did that to my poor baby.”
The School District declined comment on the lawsuit.
“We cannot comment on pending litigation, but the safety of our students is of the most utmost concern to Ascension Public Schools,” said Jackie Tisdell, public information officer for the School Board.
The suit, filed by Ann and Tommy Fugarino for themselves and on behalf of their son, says Anthony was picked up at 7:45 a.m. on Feb. 3 and was one of four schoolchildren riding on the bus to Sorrento Primary.
Anthony, the suit says, suffers from a developmental delay, ADHD, bronchial spasms and epilepsy.
The day of the incident, Anthony was wearing a bright red coat with a hood.
About 10 a.m. that day, Anthony’s mother got an automated call that her son was not in school. She immediately called her mother, who watches Anthony during the day while the Fugarinos, who are both teachers in nearby parishes, are at work.
The grandmother called the school to see if the automated call was a mistake, which had happened before, but was left on hold by the school employee who answered the phone, and then the call was disconnected, the suit says.
The school called the grandmother back at 12:30 p.m. and asked for the phone number of Anthony’s mother.
It was then that Ann Fugarino was told her son had been forgotten on the bus, the lawsuit says.
Ann Fugarino, so upset that she asked the secretary of the school where she works to drive her to Sorrento Primary, brought Anthony home from school.
She and her husband then brought their son to an after-hours pediatric medical clinic, where the doctor said it appeared the child had a seizure. The doctor advised the parents to get the bus video, the suit says.
The school initially refused the parents’ request, until the parents made a plea through a Baton Rouge television station’s broadcast, the suit alleges.
In the video, Anthony, who was strapped into his seat, can be seen slumping over at some point during the bus ride and struggling with a seizure, according to the suit. The top of his head is in the aisle.
An aide on the bus drinks coffee and chats with the driver as Anthony lies motionless, face-down in the seat, for the remainder of the bus ride, the suit alleges.
After the bus arrives at the school, the driver looks at her phone and talks with the aide, while the aide helps the other three children off the bus. The aide brushes against Anthony’s head several times in the process, the suit says.
“I counted six times she brushed against him,” attorney Bohannan said.
Before the video goes off three minutes after the driver turns off the bus, which was believed to be at her home at that point, “you can see him reach out with his hand, then his hand drops” as the driver leaves the bus, Bohannan said.
“When you watch the video, what happens to this little boy, it’s just tragic,” she said.
The suit seeks monetary damages.
The parents, Bohannan said, “have never been in a lawsuit before.”
“They waited several months after the incident to file. It was a very hard decision to reach,” Bohannan said.
“They both work in school systems” and Anthony’s mother is herself a special education teacher in St. John the Baptist Parish.
The parents, Bohannan said, are very complimentary of their son’s teachers, who they feel are “loving, devoted teachers.”
The bus driver’s current employment status with the School Board is unclear.
Tisdell, with the School Board, said, “I can confirm we took appropriate disciplinary action, but we cannot disclose any further information as it’s a personnel matter.”
Follow Ellyn Couvillion on Twitter, @EllynCouvillion.