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State to investigate after Bemidji child left alone at wrong bus stop

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By Zach Kayser / Bemidji Pioneer

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BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The Bemidji school district and the state are investigating an incident in which a school bus driver dropped a 6-year-old student off alone at the wrong location Monday.

Greg Liedl, transportation coordinator for Bemidji Area Schools, said Thursday the driver, who originally had retired from driving a school bus but returned as a substitute, dropped the 6-year-old boy off alone at his home rather than at his day care in Hubbard County.

The district and maltreatment investigators from the Minnesota Department of Education will look into the incident.

Leidl said the driver's actions were likely accidental.

"The poor guy doesn't know any of these kids," he said. "It's not a very fun job to be the substitute driver, let me tell you."

Leidl said he did not know how long the child was left alone. The transportation department will use GPS tracking equipment on the bus to establish how much time elapsed between the drop-off and when the child was found at home by his mother, Liedl said.

The boy's mother, Janel Samuelson, said Thursday that she found her son waiting outside the family's locked house after receiving a call from the day care provider. Her son told her that older children who normally would act as helpers incorrectly told the bus driver that he was gone that day, causing the bus driver to miss his stop, she said.

"It's definitely alarming," she said. "The fact that it was 45 degrees out and that we've told our son how to properly deal with things … in an emergency situation ... is the only reason that our son is OK."

In an email, Samuelson said her son was alone for more than 45 minutes. She called for the driver to be fired.

"First, they have to do their investigation," Liedl said. "Of course, we suspend him off of driving bus pending the investigation."

Liedl said that if the Department of Education investigation confirms that the driver did leave the boy alone at the wrong spot, the driver's firing also could be warranted. However, it may be months before an investigation is complete, due to the limited staffing of the department’s maltreatment unit, he said.

In the email, Samuelson referenced the recent hypothermia death of a 6-year old girl at a Bemidji apartment building in subzero temperatures. On Monday, the temperature was above normal, with a high of 47 degrees and a low of 33, according to data from the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks, N.D.

Liedl said that because the incident occurred in Hubbard County, the school district likely will also contact the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office.

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