SOUTH SALT LAKE — After a kindergartener in South Salt Lake slipped away from school, hopped on a public bus in search of a doctor and woke up at the end of the line, the school is creating a new policy to monitor children set to go home sick.
When the boy reported he didn't feel well on Nov. 6, staff members in the front office of Lincoln Elementary sent him back to his classroom to get his coat and backpack, said Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley.
The 5-year-old, whose name has not been released, decided not to wait for his grandfather to pick him up. He set out, he later told his mom, to go find a doctor.
School surveillance video released by the district shows a child with a backpack and black coat with a hood on striding out of the school and passing by a playground. The footage initially gave administrators the impression the boy was on foot in the busy suburb of Salt Lake City.
"That was a scary moment," Horsley said. "These are our kids, too, and we care about them deeply."
Six Granite School District employees, plus school security officers and local police, combed the neighborhood for about an hour until he was found.
The district later learned the boy had walked down the street to a bus stop on 3900 South and boarded in front of a woman. The Utah Transit Authority bus driver didn't ask any questions because the kindergartener appeared to be traveling with an adult, said UTA spokesman Marc Bowman.
Children are permitted to ride buses without a pass until they turn 6, he noted.
After making a final stop in West Valley City, the driver examined the bus before locking it, which is an agency policy, and found the sleeping boy in the back roughly 10 miles from where he boarded.
"We're glad the operator followed protocol," Bowman said, adding that it is extremely rare for a child to be found alone on a bus at the end of its route.
UTA police officers delivered the child back to the school, Bowman said.
The district said in a prepared statement that the incident presented "a new and unique concern as younger students are not prone to leaving school campus," adding that its doors are locked from the outside, but not the inside, in case of a fire or other safety issues.
The school's new protocol will ensure children are accompanied outside the classroom, with Horsley noting the school has enough teacher's aides make sure an adult can go with a sick child to the office and be sure the student stays where they need to be.
The boy's mother said in a written statement released by the district that she didn't want other parents to experience the fear felt during the ordeal. She added that she was satisfied with a new school policy announced Friday. She was not named in the statement.