Student With Special Needs Is Left on School Bus and Forced to Hitchhike 30 Miles Home... Twice

The bus driver and attendant at the Florida school district now face criminal charges of child neglect.

Twice in one week, a Florida student with special needs was abandoned on the school bus and forced to hitchhike 30 miles home, officials say.

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The 13-year-old fell asleep on the bus ride home from school. Surveillance video taken inside the bus shows driver Gale Brown joking while attendant Gwendolyn Simmons supposedly checks the seats, but walks right past the student.

Mug shots of Gale Brown and Gwendolyn Simmons. (Courtesy of Polk County Sheriff's Department)

The women leave the bus, and video surveillance captures the student waking up and finding himself alone. He then grabs his backpack, climbs on a seat, and escapes through a window.

Cops say he walked and hitchhiked 30 miles home. 

According to Sheriff Grady Judd from the Polk County Sheriff's department, the student went to school the next day and told Simmons that they left him on the bus. Simmons did not believe him. 

The student also didn't inform his family until the next day, Sheriff Judd said.

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Just days later, the boy fell asleep on the ride home again, and the same driver left the bus. Video surveillance shows him getting up and peeking at the driver's seat before he squeezes the doors open and leaves the bus.

His mom realized what had happened when he missed his therapy appointment that afternoon.

"When we found out, I was just thankful that the student was safe," said Steven Whitaker, executive director of Our Children's Academy.

Our Children's Academy in Lake Wales, Florida is a charter school that specializes in special needs education from children age 1 through 9th grade. 

WTSP reported that each bus is equipped with a mechanism that sets off an alarm once the engine is turned off. The driver or the attendant then must go to the back of the bus to shut the alarm off, forcing the driver to inadvertently check the aisles. 

Sheriff Judd said Brown and Simmons were asking students to disable it as they left the bus. 

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Brown and Simmons were both trained to work with students with special needs, WTSP reported. 

Polk County bus driver Gale Brown and attendant Gwendolyn Simmons have been arrested on charges of child neglect. Neither have entered a plea.

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