One of a parent’s worst nightmares became a D.C. mother’s reality just before the start of the school year.
Asha Gillus had gotten her 6-year-old daughter Channing ready for another day of summer learning at Janney Elementary School. And like usual, Gillus and her daughter, who has Down Syndrome, waited for her school bus to arrive.
But something was off. The school bus arrived 15 minutes late, raising the first red flag for Gillus. What happened next sent the mother into a panic.
“EYS [Extended school year learning] starts at 9 a.m. At 10 a.m., I text Channing’s teacher just to say, ‘Hey, what time did Channing get to school?’ And her response was, ‘Channing’s not here,’ ” Gillus told WRC-TV NBC 4 Washington.
Gillus’ home is just a few blocks away from the Tenleytown neighborhood elementary school. At most, the ride should have taken a matter of minutes. Instead, Gillus’ daughter went missing for almost three hours.
“I start calling people, texting people, emailing the director of transportation of [the Office of the State Superintendent of Education] in all caps ‘WHERE IS CHANNING?’ calling the school,” she explained to the station.
But no one was able to provide the panicked mother with the answers she desperately needed. Gillus explained that not knowing what happened, or if her child was okay, left her frightened and unsure if she should leave the house in fear of Channing being returned home while she was out looking for her.
Eventually Channing turned up at school after missing breakfast and three learning sessions that Gillus said are “critical to her development.” Gillus continued pressing for answers from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, but still, no one could provide answers that made sense to the concerned mother.
Gillus said she asked to see footage from a camera onboard only to find out it wasn’t operational. Her confusion and outrage grew when she was told the bus driver and attendant who picked her child up were new to the route and had gotten lost despite utilizing the bus’ built-in GPS system.
The next day, a private contractor, driver and attendant were sent to transport Channing to school. Again, there was a mishap.
“I get a call from Channing’s former day care center, that is down the street from her school, saying something happened,” explained Gillus about her child being taken to the wrong building. OSSE officials said they would not only provide a resolution but also ensure the mistakes never happened again.
But it was too little too late.
“I found this out by happenstance,” she said of the drop-off mishap. “I cannot imagine the things that we do not know.”
Now, having lost confidence in the school’s transportation system, Gillus said she and family members have developed a schedule to each drop off and pick up Channing at school. But with so many questions unanswered about that day, Gillus said the concern of something happening to her daughter remains unshakable.
“It was a fear, something I still deal with every day because I still have no answers.”
On social, parents are equally outraged by the ordeal with some even expressing further distrust in schools ensuring their children’s safety.
On parent called the event “unacceptable,” noting that’s why she can’t “trust DC nothing for my kid.” Another added, “Parents of kids with disabilities are paranoid of who they send their kids to because bs keeps happening.”
Despite making her story known to the public, Gillus said OSSE has yet to provide her updates on what happened that frightening day, or if anyone has been held accountable.