Valley 6-year-old had to spend 2 hours in hot bus with broken AC, mom says

On the hottest day ever recorded in Merced County, the temperature reached 115 degrees in Gustine Monday.

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Thursday, September 8, 2022
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A Merced County mother says her special-needs first grader sat on a school bus with no air conditioning for more than two hours on Tuesday.

MERCED COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- A Merced County mother is worried for her child's well-being during this historic heatwave.

She says her special-needs first grader sat on a school bus with no air conditioning for more than two hours on Tuesday.

On the hottest day ever recorded in Merced County, the temperature reached 115 degrees in Gustine Monday. That's where Yolanda Camarena says her 6-year-old arrived home from a 2.5-hour bus ride without a working air conditioning unit.

"When I went to get him out of the bus his shirt was drenched. The bus driver's shirt was drenched," said Camarena. "There's no AC working. Most of the windows on the bus don't even lower down."

It was all even more alarming to Yolanda because her son has special needs that make it difficult for him to communicate during the ride to and from Volta Elementary in Los Banos.

"He is nonverbal and so that is one of my concerns. Two and half-hour ride," she said. "He can't even let them know that he is feeling sick or that he needs a drink of water."

The Merced County Office of Education contracts with company First Student to transport more than 800 kids on 57 buses--all enrolled in special learning programs.

A spokesperson with the Merced County Office of Education says the contract requires that all buses have AC on board. Tuesday the unit broke. The bus was taken back to the fleet yard to be repaired. A new one was deployed Wednesday.

But Yolanda says the AC on buses breaking down isn't uncommon. She claims it happens several times per month.

"They are always switching buses back and forth because they always break down at one time or another," she said. "We shouldn't be concerned whether or not our kids are making it to school safe."

MCOE says the logistics of drop-offs and pick-ups with children with special needs can be complex and often require the driver to turn the bus off altogether which stops the AC.

A statement was released that said in part: "Because of the stop-and-go nature of school busses and the care that students with special needs require, the doors open often to let students on or off and can create a difficult environment to keep cool."

Yolanda says she is not placing fault, she just wants a permanent solution.

"I don't want to wait for something to happen to one of the children in order for us to do something about this," she said.