WEST ALLIS — Some of what Waukesha County Sheriff's Department Deputy Inspector Torin Misko called lapses in supervision he saw at an elementary school have been corrected, but there is no information on why those issues happened.
West Allis-West Milwaukee School Board member Sue Sujecki said Monday that she is going to formally request a report from Superintendent Marty Lexmond.
In response to a similar request from this newspaper, Lexmond said via email: “Given that the details of the review of the bus issue at Hoover are part of a confidential student record, I can only respond in general. When bus issues like these are reported, they are investigated and we work with schools, the bus company and parents until they are adequately resolved.”
Deidre Roemer, director of leadership and learning, said Monday night, "This, like all concerns, was properly looked into and, where appropriate, changes made." An email from Lexmond to school board members last week confirmed that some problems were addressed. But it didn't indicate how the situations were allowed to occur .
Even so, after receiving Lexmond's update, board member Stephanie Emons said, "I felt that the situation was handled appropriately and sufficiently."
On Feb. 20, a dismayed and confused West Allis-West Milwaukee School Board heard a string of disturbing school-bus related mishaps.
“There was a considerable amount of alarm,” Sujecki said.
The school board members said they wanted more information.
Misko told them about no adult supervision as children, including kindergartners got off an extremely late school bus, a lost child crying in an empty school hallway and a mother's distress over her kindergartner mistakenly being driven to North Avenue in Milwaukee, instead of to her New Berlin home on North Lane.
The incidents involve Hoover Elementary School, 12705 W. Euclid Ave., in New Berlin.
Misko elaborated that when his 4-year-old daughter was late arriving home from school, his distraught wife had to deal with the bus company on her own, instead of the school helping her.
"My wife was crying on the phone" trying to find her, Misko, director of police services for Sussex, said.
Lexmond's immediate response was to launch the inquiry that ended last week.
Board member Pat Kerhin registered shock at the father's recounting.
"It just got worse and worse," she said after the meeting.
Another incident Misko described resulted when he followed his child's bus to school to make sure she got to where she needed to be.
When she and the other students got off the bus 40-minutes late, Misko said, "I did not see one staff member there at all."
The kindergartners could have gone off to play on the playground or followed the older children to where they were not supposed to be, he said.
After Misko had ushered his little girl into the multi-purpose room where the kindergartners gathered to meet their teachers, he got another surprise. His child's teacher was in her classroom. The teacher across the hall pitched in to get the children where they were supposed to go, he said.
"I was very disappointed to see the things I saw," Misko said. Things did improve after more than three weeks and multiple meetings with the principal, he said.
Another time, Misko's mother encountered a kindergartner crying in a corner because she didn't know where her classroom was, he said.
"This girl was scared out of her mind."
The situation could have been deadly, if a predator had encountered the child instead of his mother, the veteran law enforcement officer said. The child would have followed his mother right out of school, he said.
After the meeting, Misko said that his mother had asked a staff member where the child was supposed to be. The staffer just pointed to where the kindergarten classrooms were.
Worse to come
However, the most grueling experience for the family came a month before Misko came to the board when their daughter was 50 minutes late being dropped off after school.
Calling the school, his wife was told that it was a school bus issue, Misko told the board. She dealt with the bus company, pleading with them to contact the driver, he said.
After the meeting he said, "We had zero support from the school to figure out where our child was."
A new bus driver had mistakenly taken her to North Avenue in Milwaukee, rather than to North Lane in New Berlin, Misko said. The bus company had no comment.
The original accounts left school board President Jeff Sikich surprised and wanting more information.
"I'm surprised because that was the first time we heard of it," he said after the meeting. It seemed the board or administration would have heard something from the school or the bus company, he said.
As to the allegation of children getting off a school bus that was 40-minutes late to no supervision, Sikich said, "Having come from an elementary teaching background of 21 years (in West Allis), I'd be very surprised at that." Staff members are always assigned to bus duty, he said. However he said, "I don't know how long they can wait." That remains unanswered in Lexmond's email.
As to the lost child crying, he said, "I would be shocked and very disappointed" if that turned out to be what happened. "I think we have a wonderful staff at each building."
It is still to be seen if that might have been a one-time case in a district of more than 9,000 students or if there actually is a problem, he said.
Sikich said he didn't know what to say about the mother allegedly having to track down her child on her own.
"It's an awful situation to have to worry about your child," said board member Heather Justham afterward. "It's surprising and heartbreaking to see what they endured."
Board member Dan Bailey said he was alarmed by what he heard.
"To have someone in law enforcement say that his mother could have taken a child without anybody knowing, a red flag goes up, that's serious," he said.
While late buses are something to expect at the start of the school year, the report of not having supervision when children get off those late buses "definitely bothers me," he said.
"Children that age don't understand the world can be a bad place," Bailey said. "They don't think about the dangers."
Family asks out
Concerns over bus safety and a desire to enroll his daughter in New Berlin schools drove Misko to officially petition the school board to allow his home to be in the New Berlin School District.
Misko lives in a small section of New Berlin that is inside the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District. Hoover Elementary is part of the West Allis-West Milwaukee district. He lives 12 houses east of the New Berlin School District boundary, he said after the meeting.
The family cannot use the open enrollment program to transfer into New Berlin because the district is too full to accept open enrollment students. Also, Misko's wife cannot drive their child to and from school due to a vision issue, he said. If they were in the New Berlin School District, transportation would be provided.
The school board denied his request last week, 7-2.