The school district that a 19-year-old, non-verbal student with autism attended when he died nearly two years ago from heat-related injuries after being locked in a school bus all day is now being sued for part of the $23.5 million settlement that the bus company agreed to pay to the boy's parents.
Hun Joon "Paul" Lee died inside a Pupil Transportation Cooperative school bus, which he normally rode to and from Sierra Vista Adult School in the Whittier Union High School District east of Los Angeles. In June, Pupil Transportation Cooperative settled with Lee’s parents for $23.5 million, but now the school bus contractor has brought a lawsuit against the school district recoup some of that loss.
Lee died after being left on board his school bus the morning of Sept. 11, 2015. Temperatures that day reached the mid-90s. The driver, Armando Ramirez, pleaded guilty earlier this year to leaving Lee on the bus alone for more than eight hours because he was so focused on an impending sexual tryst at the conclusion of the route that he neglected to check the bus for students before parking it and leaving.
However, Pupil Transportation Cooperative argues, Whittier School District did not call Lee’s parents when he failed to show up for school that day. Instead, administrators simply marked him absent, says the lawsuit. It further states that Lee was assigned an aide who was supposed meet him when the bus pulled into the school's campus, retrieve him from the bus and accompany him to classes throughout the day. But that aide did not contact the bus company or Lee’s parents when he did not get off the bus.
When Lee did not come home that afternoon, his parents called the school and they contacted the bus company, which dispatched Ramirez to check the bus. It was there that he found Lee collapsed on the bus floor.
Whittier Daily News says Pupil Transportation Cooperative is suing because “the WUHSD paid no money to the relatives of Hun Joon “Paul” Lee in resolving the part of the case filed against the district.”
A June press release by Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, the Lee family’s lawyers, states that “WUHSD has implemented protocols to call a student's home and/or the bus company if he/she does not appear in class within 30 minutes of school starting, instituting ID cards and establishing bus monitors to track all students who enter/exit the bus, as well as requiring students to be placed on air conditioned buses if requested.”
Bus driver Ramirez was charged with felony dependent abuse and sentenced to two years in prison after his guilty plea. Last September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 1072, also known as the Paul Lee School Bus Safety Bill, mandating the installation of a child check system on all school buses in California by the start of the 2018-2019 school year, and requiring drivers to be trained annually in their use.
The California Highway Patrol is scheduled to release its regulations governing the new child-check program by the beginning of next year.
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