There’s no telling how soon after she stepped off her bus that 4-year-old Ashiya Jones knew something was wrong.
Ashiya goes to preschool at Folwell Performing Arts Magnet in Minneapolis’ Corcoran neighborhood. After school on Friday, she was supposed to get dropped off at 62nd and Wentworth.
Unbeknownst to her -- and her grandmother, who was expecting Ashiya at any moment -- she had been dropped off at 62nd and Wentworth. But not in Minneapolis. In Richfield.
The two addresses are close, but separated by a large concrete wall and a surging no-man’s-land of highways. The bus driver that day was a substitute, and had made a fairly simple error in dropping Ashiya off on the wrong side.
But all Ashiya knew was that she was lost. She started walking.
After wandering for blocks, she started knocking on random doors, until a woman answered and called police to report a missing child.
When her mother, Asia Jones, got the call informing her Ashiya hadn’t shown up at her grandmother’s house, she left work early and jumped into her car. She told KSTP that she’d been “going crazy” with worry.
“I want the driver to be held accountable for it,” she said. She considers what Ashiya went through child neglect.
It’s not certain whether Minneapolis Public Schools will treat it as such. All of this happened the Friday before winter break, and a spokesperson with the district says they’re still trying to figure out how to handle the error.
Kids being dropped off at incorrect stops, the spokesperson says, is “quite rare” for the district, but it’s far from the first time it’s happened in the Twin Cities this year. In October, Maleia Distad, a St. Paul girl Ashiya’s age, was dropped off a mile and a half away from her Delaware Avenue and Sidney Street West stop. A neighbor recognized her and stayed with her until her mother showed up in tears.
The month before, in Ashiya’s own district, a lost 5-year-old girl ended up waiting at Minneapolis Public Schools’ transportation services building until 6 p.m., when her mother was finally able to recover her.
The unnamed player in these tiny tragedies is a nationwide school bus driver shortage, which was already going strong by the time the school year began. Transportation officials statewide have had to recruit year-round to get enough bodies behind the wheel. Minneapolis started in September with 26 drivers shy of its full 150 roster, and St. Paul was at the point that dispatchers, trainers, safety staff, and managers had been shanghaied into service.
“These are people that typically stay in the office and cover phones, make route changes, fix buses et cetera,” St. Paul transportation director Tom Burr told MPR in August. It’s reportedly been causing delays, wrong turns, and, in some cases, misplaced kids.
The main culprits being blamed for this shortage are a strong economy and low unemployment. Not as many people need to drive buses, so not as many people do.