RIDGEWOOD, N.J. — Claire Curley of Ridgewood could have been on that bus.
The one up against the guardrail of Route 46 in Hasbrouck Heights on Oct. 17, that police said was abandoned by its intoxicated driver -- Jasmine Miller, 27 of Lodi, an employee of Bogota's Triumph Bus Company.
The one being driven by a woman with an extensive arrest record on charges of aggravated assault, unlawful possession of a weapon, aggravated arson, terroristic threats, knowing danger of death and more, according to police reports.
According to a written agreement between the Ridgewood School District and Region I, the bus company owner was required to perform background checks on his employees, and send copies of them to the Bergen County Superintendent of Schools before Aug. 31 or upon employment.
The NJ Department of Education officials said background checks on Miller were not on file.
"The New Jersey Department of Education has no record of a Jasmine Miller being submitted for the criminal history record check," Press Secretary David Saenz said.
Claire Curley, 14, who is nonverbal and on the autism spectrum, could have been on that bus.
And for several days earlier that month, she was.
But that day just as Claire was to be picked up, its driver had drunkenly crashed the bus, got out and was struck by a vehicle, police said.
Were the Curleys outraged? Definitely. Worried? Absolutely.
Shocked? Not so much.
In the decade that Claire has been riding with bus companies provided by Region I through the Ridgewood School District, she has been taken on dangerous bus rides, videotaped by one of her drivers while having a behavioral episode and abandoned in her school parking lot, according to police reports.
"This administration is putting vulnerable kids at risk," Claire's father Tom Curley said.
"We should never be put in this position of fighting so hard for so many years for our daughter’s safety being transported out of district.
"We never thought this would happen in Ridgewood. The willful negligence of this school administration is stunning.
"These people are not doing the most basic function of their jobs, which is keeping vulnerable children from this school district safe.
"They are much more proficient at passing the bureaucratic buck."
This particular incident is the latest that the Curleys are experiencing in connection to the transportation system provided to them by the Ridgewood School District and Region I.
Ridgewood Schools Superintendent David Fishbein told Daily Voice that it is Region I's responsibility to hold the bus companies accountable for background checks.
Triumph Bus Company owner -- "Afim" -- did not return Daily Voice's calls or texts placed on Thursday, Friday and Monday.
When asked if Region I followed up with Triumph, Transportation Coordinator Linda Raven of Region I directed Daily Voice to Ridgewood Schools Administrator Alfredo Aguilar and Fishbein.
Daily Voice placed numerous unreturned calls and emails, respectively, to Aguilar on Thursday, Friday and Monday.
Daily Voice also placed one unreturned phone call and email, respectively, to Region I Business Administrator Kyle Bleeker on Monday morning.
Ridgewood School District Director of Special Programs Dr. Kim Buxenbaum directed Daily Voice to Fishbein, as did former Ridgewood BOE Acting President and current board member Sheila Brogan.
"This was all too predictable," Curley told Daily Voice. "The system that is set up to do these background checks is not adequate.
"We have warned Ridgewood Schools Superintendent Daniel Fishbein, and board members and Region I before that this is unsafe for our children."
"This administration is putting really vulnerable kids at risk," Curley said. "And they know it.
"We are tired of fighting for our daughter's safety."
This story is the third in the occasional series "Hell On Wheels" that follows Ridgewood families with special needs children, who say they have been experiencing problems with the transportation system provided to them through a bidding process by the Ridgewood School District and Region I. Region I is a hub of administrators located in Mahwah, servicing families of special needs children in Northwest Bergen County towns.
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