Suit: School bus driver left child near busy road

The legal guardians of a young girl say Durham School Services and the Charleston County School District allowed their child to wander alone near Ashley Phosphate Road in North Charleston.

A school bus driver dropped off a 6-year-old girl near a busy section of Ashley Phosphate Road without an adult to pick her up, leaving the child to wander for blocks beside rushing traffic, according to a lawsuit filed against the Charleston County School District and bus operator Durham School Services this month.

Rodney and Kanesha Jackson, who filed the lawsuit as legal guardians of Harmony Gadson, say the incident took place on April 10, 2014, when Harmony was a student at Pepperhill Elementary School in North Charleston. They say the bus driver broke a policy about not leaving young children alone at bus stops.

“Given the traffic during the time of day, Harmony was forced to dodge heavy traffic on Ashley Phosphate Road and was almost hit by a car several times as she aimlessly wandered looking for an adult,” they wrote in the complaint.

They say Harmony walked alone for three blocks to her house, saw nobody was home, and then walked another seven or eight blocks to the area near a Dollar General on Ashley Phosphate.

An hour later, the plaintiffs say they were driving to pick Harmony up from school when they saw her in the dollar store parking lot “crying uncontrollably.”

The lawsuit claims that the school district and Durham, the company that manages the bus fleet and employs most of its drivers, had a policy at the time that prohibited bus drivers “from allowing children (of) Harmony’s age to be left alone at a bus stop without a supervising adult present.” The suit says drivers were required to take unsupervised students back to school so they could wait for a parent to pick them up. The school district declined to comment when asked whether such a policy existed, and Durham and the district declined to comment on the lawsuit’s claims.

The complaint mentions that Kanesha Jackson had previously lost two children and that she suffered “emotional distress” when she saw her daughter was in danger. It calls the unidentified bus driver’s actions “atrocious” and seeks actual and punitive damages.

Rodney and Kanesha Jackson declined to be interviewed but issued a written statement about the lawsuit via their attorney, John T. Gentry III.

“We feel that neither Harmony — nor any child for that matter — should be needlessly abandoned when entrusted to the care of an educational institution,” they wrote.

The lawsuit comes as the school district’s relationship with Durham has hit a rough patch. After months of late buses and understaffing, the district started withholding 10 percent from its monthly payments to Durham in January until the company provides “consistent and reliable service.”

The district renewed its contract with Durham for five years in March 2015. At a school board meeting Monday night, Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait explained that the district was adding two new staff positions — operations supervisor and quality assurance supervisor — to ensure better bus service.

“Since we’ve had the contract with Durham, we have been disappointed in the quality and level of services,” Postlewait said.

Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546 or twitter.com/paul_bowers.