The death of Isaiah Hazel is itself a cause for tremendous grief, but the circumstances in which the three-year-old's fate was ascertained is also heartbreaking. According to initial reports, children entering the school bus in which Isaiah had been riding discovered him motionless at around 2.30pm. Isaiah was taken to the Couva district facility where he was pronounced dead.
This matter is subject to an ongoing police investigation. But the State should explore the possibility of reviewing the conditions under which school buses operate, particularly their safety protocols.
Of immediate concern is the need for counselling to be given to all of the children who made the discovery, in addition to Isaiah’s family and anyone else connected to this matter who has been affected. The reports stating the driver of the bus had to be sedated after the discovery of the child’s lifeless body underlines the enormity of this tragedy.
It is for law enforcement authorities to piece together the full circumstances surrounding this death and for State prosecutors to determine what action, if any, should be taken. The latter decision will be one which will undoubtedly balance any unique circumstances in the case, precedent, the law and evidence gathered, and the public policy issues concerned.
Many were reminded of the 2014 charging of a grandfather for the death of his 17-month-old grandson who died in the back seat of his car as the grandfather went to work. That incident involved a smaller vehicle and a more proximate relationship between driver and child. Yet undoubtedly, school bus drivers have a special duty of care to ensure the safety of their charges. The State should consider whether it needs tighter safety rules and procedures when it comes to school buses which have long become a regular feature of the education system.
The prevalence of the use of these buses, whether through informal or formal arrangements between parents, communities, and schools, points to the need for strong safety regulation such as what exists abroad in countries like the US. There, rules have been formulated relating to the design of the buses, both interior and exterior, as well as guidelines to be given to drivers. The facts of this specific case notwithstanding, there are many procedures that could be used to prevent children from being left behind. Given the potential for medical emergencies onboard, it is also imperative that some thought goes into how these vehicles are equipped.
Under law, drivers of private school buses need to obtain a special permit to operate them. But are the conditions and specifications relating to these permits adequately scrutinised and inspected? In this regard, it may well be the case that the time has come for an amendment to the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act.