A school bus driver said she was treated for hypothermia at a hospital emergency room last week after her employer ignored her repeated pleas that her bus be replaced with one with a working heater during subzero conditions.
Elisha Jones, a driver for Illinois Central School Bus, which provides service to Wheaton schools, spoke with Wheaton Patch Monday afternoon about the incident on Thursday. Jan. 23.
Wheaton Community Unit School District 200 acknowledged the incident on Tuesday.
Jones said the incident alarmed her that her employer would show such great disregard both for the Monroe Middle School students on her route that morning and for an Jones’ own safety.
“We are aware that there was a bus issue last week involving one of the routes for Monroe,” District 200 Public Relations Director Erica Loiacono wrote in response to an inquiry from Wheaton Patch. “The Principal was onsite and handled the situation appropriately. We are following up with Illinois Central accordingly.”
Based in West Chicago, Illinois Central School Bus did not return messages Wheaton Patch left on Monday and Tuesday requesting comment for this story.
The incident occurred on a morning where temperatures were below zero, and winds were buffeting the area, driving down wind chill values.
A check of the archives on FriendlyForecast.com shows the temperature in Wheaton from 7 to 8 a.m. that day was -3 degrees, with winds of 19.6 mph and gusts to 27.6 mph. The National Weather Service’s wind chill calculator put the wind chill values for that morning from -26 to as low as -29 degrees.
Jones said when she first got on her bus about 7 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 23, she complained that it was cold, but her supervisors insisted the bus would warm up before she picked up the first children on her route.
They were wrong, Jones said, adding that children complained about hold cold it was inside the bus as they were boarding.
She said she first called the company’s dispatchers about 7:25 a.m. to let them know the bus was not warming up and that she felt the lack of heat was inappropriate for the children and herself. Jones said she asked for a replacement bus but her request was denied.
They told me there was no other bus available,” she said.
Jones said she called the dispatcher about 15 minutes later, repeating her request for a replacement bus with heat. She said she reiterated her request several more times over the course of about 40 minutes, during which she said her hands and feet were beginning to hurt from the cold.
Finally she was instructed to stop the bus and wait for a replacement. Jones said she and the children stayed inside the bus, waiting and hoping for the arrival of a warmer vehicle. The minutes dragged on without relief.
Meantime, Jones said other drivers who had completed their routes stopped by, offering to take the children in her bus to Monroe Middle School. The other drivers also radioed dispatchers with their offers of help, but the offers of assistance were denied.
“They said no, they absolutely could not transport the children on another bus,” said Jones, who added that by this time, she was in tears from the pain in her feet and hands caused by the cold, which also had her shivering hard.
Finally, about an hour after The children finally were delivered to Monroe, Jones said, and she headed to the emergency room because she was in such pain. There, Jones said, the medical staff told her she was suffering from hypothermia and that she was on the verge of frostbite.
While she was at the hospital, Jones said she called Monroe Middle School to make sure her young charges were OK. It was during that call that she was told the bus company had never checked on the welfare of the children.
“I just could not believe that,” Jones said. “It’s bad enough that they wouldn’t replace the bus, but they weren’t even concerned enough to call and find out about the children … or me.”
“I have never experienced anything like that before in my life,” she added.