Fairfax County school loses track of multiple students during summer programs

Fairfax County Public Schools is reviewing its protocol after a parent says an after-school drop-off mishap was further mishandled due to a lack of communication.

The parent who reached out to FOX 5 asked us not to reveal her identity. She said her six-year-old daughter is attending summer school at Cunningham Park Elementary School, which is not where she normally attends school during the regular school year.

According to the parent, her daughter and other students were supposed to be dropped off after summer school on Monday around 1 p.m. The bus did not arrive after 25 minutes of waiting, so she said parents who were picking up their students called Cunningham Park Elementary and were instructed to come to the office as buses returned to the school with any children they did not drop off.

Once there, she said the office staff seemed "concerned but calm" and had been on the phone with the office that handles transportation.

"They were hung up on. They were on hold. I, myself, was hung up on, and I never was able to get somebody to reach out after that," she told FOX 5 Tuesday. "After several hours, the school decided to call the police. They weren’t getting anywhere. They couldn’t get in contact with the county."

The other parent who was waiting for her two sons later found out that her kids had been dropped off at the assigned location. However, parents had already been instructed to go to the school.

"They [boys] walked a mile home in the heat after the heat advisory and all of the Fairfax County Public School activities were canceled due to the heat. They had to walk home," she said.

By this point, she said it was still unclear where her child was located.

"As a parent, I was furious. I was so angry. I was living every parent’s nightmare. Where’s my child? My heart is being worn on my sleeve and now, it’s missing," she said. "There was no way I could have any contact with my daughter. She doesn’t have a cell phone. She doesn’t have an AirTag. I didn’t think it was going to be an emergency."

Once realizing her neighbor’s children walked home, the parent we spoke with says she sent her father – the child’s grandfather – to see if she made it home, as well. As it turns out, her daughter was dropped off at her home.

"My child…somehow guided the bus to our house. She was alone, unsupervised at our house," she said. "She was nervous. She was anxious. She had never been home alone before, and I’m just really glad that she was able to get into the house. It’s hot. The school system did something that, if I did as a parent, would have been illegal. They left my child home alone."

In a statement emailed to FOX 5 on Tuesday afternoon, FCPS confirmed the drop-off incidents, saying the children involved got on the wrong bus:

"School districts often experience some transportation challenges as students and staff learn new routines during the first days of school - including summer programs and extended school year.

Yesterday, one student was driven home by a bus driver after it was discovered that they were on the wrong bus. Two others who also boarded the wrong bus walked home after being driven back to their assigned drop-off location at another school. We are working to address concerns and reviewing appropriate protocols with staff."

FOX 5 replied with the following questions:

  • What is the protocol when students board the wrong bus?
  • Are students supposed to be driven back to the school?
  • Is FCPS reviewing how the schools communicate with the drivers in the event this happens?

We have not received an updated response as of this writing.

As for the parent who reached out, she said she has arranged a meeting with officials from Cunningham Park Elementary to discuss what happened.