NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES, Petitioner-Respondent,
Submitted June 3, 2014.
Approved for Publication June 9, 2014.
On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, Docket No. AHU 11-1411.
Mellk O'Neill, attorneys for appellant (Arnold M. Mellk, of counsel; Gidian R. Mellk and Edward A. Cridge, on the brief).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Jennifer Hoff, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Before Judges FISHER, KOBLITZ and O'CONNOR. The opinion of the court was delivered by O'CONNOR, J.S.C., (temporarily assigned).
[436 N.J.Super. 55] O'CONNOR, J.S.C.,
On July 12, 2011, R.R., a school bus driver for the West Windsor-Plainsboro Board of Education, failed to inspect the bus at the conclusion of her route to determine if any children were still on board. When R.R. exited the bus for the day, she left behind five-year-old C.S., who was alone for almost an hour before he was discovered. The Institutional Abuse Investigation Unit (IAIU) of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) substantiated that R.R. committed an act of neglect in violation of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c)(4)(b). R.R. appealed the IAIU's finding, which was ultimately affirmed by the DCF's Assistant Commissioner of the Office of Performance Management and Accountability (Commissioner). We affirm.
Following the IAIU finding that R.R. committed an act of neglect, the Criminal History Review Unit of the Department of Education (Department) suspended R.R.'s school bus " S" endorsement on her driver's license for six months. R.R. appealed both the IAIU finding of neglect and the Department's decision to suspend the " S" endorsement on her driver's license to the Office of Administrative Law.
[436 N.J.Super. 56] The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who heard the appeal of the decision to suspend the " S" endorsement found the following facts. The route R.R. took on July 12, 2011 was not her usual one. She had, however, worked with the bus aide assigned to the route in the past; in fact R.R. had previously complained to a supervisor that the aide was inattentive, frequently making cellular telephone calls and sending text messages while children were on the bus. On the day of the incident, R.R. noticed the aide sending text messages while the children were being transported, and that she sat in the front instead of the middle or back of the bus, where aides are required to sit to better observe the children.
When R.R. reached C.S.'s home, she stopped the bus and honked the horn. When an adult did not emerge, the aide told R.R. that C.S. had not taken the bus that day. R.R. pulled away and, after completing the route, returned to the bus parking lot and dropped the aide off at her car. Before the aide got off the bus, she reported that there were no children remaining. Although R.R. also had an obligation to visually inspect the bus at the end of a route to see if any children remained on board, see N.J.S.A. 18A:39-28, she did not do so.
Within an hour of R.R. exiting the bus for the day, C.S.'s mother contacted the school and reported that her son had not arrived home. A staff person checked the bus and discovered C.S. asleep in ...