SOCIAL CIRCLE, GA (AUG. 29, 2023) – Social Circle Police Chief Jason Guest confirmed that charges have been filed against a bus driver who inadvertently left a 4-year-old pre-k student from Social Circle City Schools on the bus on Aug. 16 after dropping the other students off at the school.
Guest said the bus driver would be self-surrendering today on charges that were filed yesterday following an investigation. Stacy Meeler, 52, is being charged with reckless conduct and making a false statement.
“The reckless charge is a misdemeanor, the false statement is a felony. When law enforcement was notified, we immediately started our investigation,” Guest said. “Obviously, our priorities were to ensure the safety, security and mental well-being of the victim as well as having a comprehensive investigation into the matter as it was presented.”
Larry Reid, the father of the victim, said the incident happened in the morning after his son was picked up and taken to school. Somehow the child did not get off the bus and the driver went to her home and into her house with the child still on the bus. Reid said he was concerned that they were not notified immediately when the bus driver took the child back to the school. They were only told later that afternoon. They immediately took the child to a clinic for an evaluation and to ensure that he hadn’t been dehydrated while left on the bus or any other harm happened to him during the time he was in the neighborhood unsupervised.
“The clinic said they couldn’t check for anything so long after it had happened. We should have been told right away,” Reid said. He also said the police should have been notified right away and he was concerned that they hadn’t been notified until later as well.
The spokesperson from SCCS said an investigation was immediately launched to find out what had happened.
“Acting immediately upon the allegation that a student had been inadvertently left on a school bus before being returned safely to school, our Transportation Department began a thorough investigation. Social Circle City Schools does not tolerate any behavior that jeopardizes the safety of our students,” assistant to the superintendent and communications manager Kari Willis said, adding that the bus driver is no longer employed with SCCS.
Reid said he also was concerned as he had been told different stories as to how his son was located and returned to the school.
“I was told that the bus driver was sitting on her porch and my son just walked up on her and she immediately put him on the bus and returned him to the school. I was also told that a healthcare worker found him wandering in the neighborhood and took him to the bus driver’s house,” Reid said. “The video on the bus switched off at about 8 (a.m.) when she parked the bus and it only switched on again when she turned the bus back on again to take him back to the school. My son said that he hit on the door until it eventually opened for him and that he had knocked on three doors. But we don’t really know what happened in that time.”
Reid said he thought it was after 9 a.m. that his son was returned to the school and Guest confirmed that he believed it was about 90 minutes or so that the child was unsupervised. Reid said that it was in a strange neighborhood and his son had to have been frightened, not knowing where he was.
Reid said after discussing it, he and the child’s mother, Lydia Branch, felt it was important that charges be filed.
Willis said that procedures were in place at SCCS transportation department that should have prevented something like this from happening.
“Social Circle City Schools requires all transportation personnel to undergo a comprehensive orientation to introduce them to the school district’s policies, procedures, and expectations, including but not limited to transportation guidelines, safety protocols, and emergency procedures. Additionally, the Transportation Department holds mandatory periodic training for all personnel. As required by state regulations, the school district requires all bus drivers to perform pre and post-trip inspections to confirm vehicle and student safety for morning and afternoon travel. The post-inspection involves walking to the rear of the bus to inspect all seats. The bus driver failed to complete the post-inspection properly,” Willis said, adding that the systems have since been re-evaluated to ensure nothing like this can happen again.
“Social Circle City Schools’ Transportation Department held another mandatory training immediately following this incident. In addition to the safety protocols already in place, additional signage has been placed on all buses to remind all drivers to perform their post-trip inspections. Further, all bus drivers are now required to contact the transportation director, at the start and finish of each route, to ensure the buses are empty and clear of any person(s),” Willis said.