Two Polk County School district employees are arrested, accused of abandoning a special-needs student on the school bus, not just once, but twice in the past week.Thursday night, only 10News WTSP was there as deputies led bus driver Gale Brown and bus attendant Gwendolyn Simmons into Central Booking to bond out of jail. They didn't have anything to say.
“I want to introduce you to two people who will not be the school bus driver and attendant of the year for the Polk County School system,” says Sheriff Grady Judd.The women won't be back on a school bus in charge of protecting kids any time soon.
Brown and Simmons are seen on school bus video last week joking around, as they park the school bus. Simmons is seen walking right by and leaving the sleeping 13-year-old boy with special needs.“He wakes up and the students are gone, the driver is gone, the bus attendant is gone. He gets his backpack, opens the emergency window, climbs out the window, and falls to the ground,” says Judd.
Judd says the boy had to walk and hitchhike 30 miles from Lake Wales to his Davenport home, but didn't tell his mom or anyone, until the next day.“He tells the attendant, ‘Hey y'all left me on the bus yesterday!’ The attendant didn't believe him,” Judd says. Judd insists she should have listened, because it happened again to the boy this week.
The bus is equipped with a system that when the engine's turned off, sounds an alarm, forcing the driver to walk to the back, and hit a button, essentially checking for kids. But investigators say Brown and Simmons had students disable it.“What wasn't functioning? The brains of the driver and the attendant. It’s like are you kidding me,” says Judd.
The school district won't say why the system can even be disarmed or how this could happen twice. The boy's school didn't know he was missing and hitchhiked home yet again, until his mom discovered he didn't make it to a counseling appointment.“We had asked questions in the morning, but were told there was no one else on the bus,” says Steven Whitaker, executive director of Our Children's Academy. The school works with children age 1 through 9th grade with special needs. It contracts with the Polk district for transportation.
“We’ve gone through a lot of training of the bus aides and people to try to explain our situation, unfortunately something like this happens,” Whitaker says.The women won't be back to work on the bus for now. The district says the employees are on paid leave, while an internal investigation is completed.
The women are now facing child neglect charges.Click here to read the arrest affidavits
The district released this information about the employees:Gale Brown’s annual salary is $12,375.
Brown has the following work history with Polk County Public Schools:1991 - 1995 – custodian
1995 – 1996 – substitute food service & substitute custodian1996 – 1997 – substitute custodian & substitute bus driver
1997 – 1998 – substitute bus driver1998 – 1999 – substitute bus driver
1999 – 2000 – substitute bus driverSeparated from School District – 7/1/2001
Rehired – 3/19/2004 – substitute bus driver4/28/2004 – appointed bus driver
Gale Brown has disciplinary action in her personnel file for the following:May 2012 – written warning for a red light camera infraction and failure to pay a fine
March 2000 – written reprimand for her bus not being clean on an inspectionSeptember 1999 – written warning for failure to obey the 55 mile an hour speed limit
Gwendolyn Simmons’s annual salary is $8,541. She was hired on 8/31/2009 as a substitute bus attendant and became an appointed bus attendant on 3/1/2010. She does not have disciplinary action in her personnel file.