Katherine Eckenrod said she arrived at her daughter Ella's bus stop 10 minutes early, but when the bus from Holly Springs Elementary school arrived, the 6-year-old was not on it.
"I asked the bus driver if she had Ella," said Eckenrod. "She didn't know who Ella was."
“It was sheer panic. Where is my daughter? And we didn’t know. And nobody knew.”— Andrea Blanford (@AndreaABC11) July 13, 2021
A @WCPSS 2nd grader was able to board the wrong bus when leaving school Monday.
The safeguards in place that should prevent this from happening— @ABC11_WTVD today starting at 4. pic.twitter.com/1D8l3gian8
It was Ella's first day riding the school bus, but Eckenrod said a school-issued tag zip-tied to her backpack was supposed to ensure a smooth experience; the tag lists her name, bus stop and route, along with the year-round student's grade and track number.
Lisa Luten, Wake County Public School System spokesperson, said an employee misread that tag and put Ella on the wrong bus.
"The employee at Holly Springs Elementary misread the student's bus tag. The tag had two numbers on it -- the child's track number and the child's bus number. The employee read the wrong number. After the parent notified the school, the school was able to quickly locate the child and return the child to their parents. The school is regretful of the effect this mistake had on the student and family. They are reviewing their processes," Luten said in a statement.
As staffers used the bus drivers' emergency channels to locate Ella, her mom said 20 painful minutes passed.
"At first I was panicked, and now I'm kind of mad about it -- that someone -- somehow, the system failed her," Eckenrod said. "There's a system in place so this doesn't happen and the system failed her."
Eckenrod said she's relieved Ella was found safe, still on board the other bus. While a bit confused, she doesn't believe her child will remember the ordeal, but Eckenrod will.
When Ella's Route One bus first arrived at the stop Monday afternoon, Eckenrod also claims the driver told her she was driving the Route 10 bus.
Luten said the driver's comments have not been verified.
"The process needs to be reviewed and obviously there's a disconnect somewhere and it needs to be fixed so it doesn't happen again," Eckenrod said. "These are babies that we're putting on a bus, and we need to know that they're getting home safe."