JACKSON – Surrounded by friends, family, residents, school district administrators and Board of Education members, Shelaine “Shelly” Johnson received flowers and a certificate of thanks for making sure a student found her way home safely after being displaced in transit.
The presentation was made during a recent Board of Education meeting where School Superintendent Nicole Pormilli said, “we want to recognize her for her heart and compassion and her dedication to the Jackson School District.”
School Board President Tara Rivera said “Each day our bus drivers do an amazing job making sure our students get to school and back home safely. Tonight, we have the pleasure of recognizing one of our drivers for going above and beyond in this responsibility – and for coming to the aid of one of our students with great kindness.”
Johnson was finishing up a very long day when she encountered a student in need on March 1. “She didn’t think twice about taking the time to help this student – going out of her way to show kindness and support in a way that made the student feel safe,” Rivera added.
The student in question was a 6-year-old first grader who was found by Johnson wandering around an empty bus parking lot. The issue sparked a school district investigation as to why the child had been left on the bus and how she came to miss her stop.
Pormilli said the student was found by Johnson outside of the district’s transportation facility on the grounds of Jackson Liberty High School around 5:45 p.m.
The girl is believed to have fallen asleep and was mistakenly left on a bus that had returned to that facility at 5:25 p.m. after completing its run. The student woke up and didn’t know where she was. She left the bus where she was soon found by Johnson. Johnson had just returned from her own bus route. The student was able to give Johnson her father’s cell phone number. Johnson called the student’s parents directly.
Pormilli said following the incident that the school district was investigating the matter thoroughly. “To have a child left alone in this way is something no parent should have to experience. Our district procedures are designed to ensure this does not happen, and those procedures were not followed.”
District safety procedures include requiring each driver to inspect the bus after each run to make sure no students remain on the bus. Drivers receive training annually on this procedure.
School officials said a full review of this training will be done. They will also streamline the district’s after-hours communication structure to make it easier for parents to reach a staff member in the evening in case of an emergency.
The student attends a school in Lakewood and her bus was driven by a substitute driver that day. The child’s mother became concerned over the delay and inquired in a chat with other parents if other students had returned home yet.
When she heard from other parents that their children had arrived home her concern turned to worry and she contacted the school who told her that she was not there. The parent’s next call was to the Jackson School District who handles busing for the student.
While there was no discussion of the investigation during the Board meeting, Pormilli said previously, that the incident “should never have happened.”
Johnson was overwhelmed by the presentation. “I am so grateful. I did not see this coming. I was at the right place at the right time. I think God chose me to do this. Kids mean everything to me. I want to thank you for this. It means so much to me.”
Rivera added, “Ms. Johnson has told us that she doesn’t feel like she needs to be recognized for helping another, that she was just in the right place at the right time but we disagree.”
“On behalf of the Board of Education, it is our pleasure to recognize bus driver Shelaine Johnson for demonstrating responsibility, kindness and compassion in a way that brings pride to not only herself, but to our entire district,” Rivera said.
Family members joined Johnson for photos in front of the stage of the Fine Arts Center at Jackson Memorial High School where the meeting was held.