Natomas district bus driver takes autistic boy to wrong school

Published: Thursday, Apr. 4, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 4, 2013 - 8:04 am

A Sacramento mother said she felt panic Tuesday after learning that a substitute bus driver for the Natomas Unified School District dropped her 6-year-old autistic son at the wrong elementary school.

Trystan Hernandez is enrolled in a special kindergarten program at H. Allen Hight Elementary School, his mother, Gina Velez-Balay, said Wednesday in an interview.

Instead of being delivered to Hight Elementary, where a para-educator meets him when he gets off the bus, Trystan was dropped off Tuesday at Natomas Park Elementary, about two miles from his own school, Velez-Balay said.

"My son somehow or another walked onto the playground and ended up wandering into a classroom where a teacher asked him who he was," Velez-Balay said.

Natomas Assistant Superintendent Adrian Palazuelos said Wednesday the district is investigating the case and "taking a close look at everything we do and making sure that kids get to their intended destinations" in the future.

He said transportation management staff will be reviewing transportation practices with drivers.

Natomas Park Elementary staff identified Trystan through identification in his backpack, Velez-Balay said.

"He really can't communicate," she explained. "If you're not around him (on a regular basis), you don't know what he's saying. The teacher took him to the front office where apparently they contacted Natomas transportation and then figured out that he got delivered to the wrong school."

Velez-Balay, who works at the Twin Rivers Unified School District, said she was alarmed by the episode.

"This is unacceptable," she said. "This is far from being over."

Palazuelos met Tuesday with Velez-Balay, she said. The assistant superintendent told The Bee the district is "going to do everything to make sure" transportation is a positive experience for Trystan and his family in the future.

He said he knew of no similar transportation mix-up within the district.

Velez-Balay said she learned that her son had arrived at his own campus only after she called there to talk to the Hight Elementary principal about the mix-up. That was more than two hours after Trystan had climbed aboard the bus early Tuesday.

Trystan seemed to take the episode in stride, Velez-Balay said. But she said she was frazzled and left work early that day.

"When he came home, he was his normal happy self," she said.

Call The Bee's Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee. Read her Report Card blog at http://blogs.sacbee.com/report-card/.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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