Sleeping Special-Needs Student Goes Unnoticed at School Drop Off

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HAZLE TOWNSHIP -- A 7-year-old student with special needs got on his bus Tuesday morning for the second week of school, but instead of making it to class, his family said he wound up in a grassy area near Route 93.

Nathan Stewart is a second grader at Valley Elementary. His family said he is nonverbal, which made this experience even more nerve wracking for them.

A picture shows Nathan smiling last week on his way to his first day of class, but his family said his ride to school Tuesday morning did not go as planned.

“They say don't think of the ‘what if's’ but you can't help thinking what if something would've happened to him,” Nathan’s grandmother Stacy DeBalso said.

His family said Nathan got on his bus at the usual time, but he fell asleep on the way to school. They said the other special needs students at Valley Elementary made it to class, but Nathan stayed on the bus and wound up in the bus driver’s home driveway.

“In the meantime, Nathan woke up and he said he opened up the bus door and started walking and that's when the two women found him,” DeBalso said.

Nathan's family estimates he must've been walking for about 10 to 15 minutes by himself because that's how far away the bus driver lives from the grassy area along Route 93 where Nathan was found.

“My heart sank. I mean, we had just lost his father in July and he's my only lifeline. We were just so afraid that something would've happened to him,” DeBalso said.

The family said Nathan should have been in school around 9, but they weren’t notified that he was missing until two hours later.

State police said they responded to the incident after the two women found Nathan and called 911.

“I want to thank them. If it weren’t for them, my grandson might not be here,” DeBalso said of the two women.

The Hazelton Area School District is now investigating this incident.

“Currently, the district is running its own internal investigation to get the information as it pertains to this incident,” Acting Superintendent George Donadi said.

Chivarella Incorporated is the busing company in charge of getting Nathan to school. The company had no comment for Newswatch 16 but did leave a voicemail for Nathan’s family the night of the incident.

“I always hear of other bus companies but never thought it'd happen to me. But it did and it's being corrected. You can bet this will never happen again to any child,” A woman who identifies herself as Carol from Chivarella’s said in a voicemail Nathan’s family shared.

Through this whole ordeal, the family said they are grateful for one thing: Nathan is safe.

“I think that he had angels and his father by his side yesterday when he got off that van,” DeBalso said.

The family said they will be driving Nathan to school from now on.


  • magicmikexxsm

    Come on people this happens at least twice in a new school year…no big deal…so now will Nathans parents now sue the bus company??? who about Nathan get better sleep so he doesn’t fall asleep on the bus..I never fell asleep on the bus as a kid… The drivers should be made to get up off their butts and walk to the back of the bus and check the seats before the close the bus door to go home at night …..

      • magicmikexxsm

        MIKE lol the guy who’s not the brightest color in the crayon box, calling me not very bright……you voted for Hillary didn’t you……..┌∩┐(◣_◢)┌∩┐ Ba-Zing

  • In a galaxy far far away

    Since they pay poorly and no benefits (for most are part time) they cant find people to do this job. Not to mention required CDL and backround checks. They dont get the pay and benefits of other school employees for such responsibility! My wife drives bus and I think she is insane. All this responsibility for $11-$15 hr and tie your whole day ( from 6:30-4:30 dont get payed between runs) up for 6 hours pay. Then put up with the distraction of Mom’s little “angels”. Then add the responsibility of special needs children and I am amazed that they find anyone to do this job! Everytime a mistake is made they want to hang then! I would rather move piles of horsecrap with my bare hands than deal with this for what they get paid! For the parents that disagree…there are plenty of opening for school bus drivers in every school district…go for it! I am sure you will do much better!

    • In a galaxy far far away

      Forgot to add annual physicals, increased driver’s license cost (CDL), dealing with impatient drivers (who often run the busses lights), basically expected to be on CALL for the unpaid hours between runs, and now they want them to be trained to use epipens (more liability). I, personally, cannot understand why anyone would take on this responsibility for the pay they offer. So, be glad they have people willing to do this unappreciated chore of getting your little “angels”(And I wont even go down this road) to school!

  • XYZ

    have to ask as inquiring minds want to know… I am sure I am not the only one wondering how this little boy’s dad died. I know it is not relevant. Why was his grandmother only commenting in the article. What about the mom? or did I misread it.
    poor child. I hope the family has him in therapy and in contact with agencies that can help him like step by step. Y does he not have a TSS worker.

    • Jaclyn

      You didn’t misread it. They published what his grandmother said because she spoke on camera, I did not although I was there for the interview. Why didn’t I speak on camera? Because I was tending to my daughter and just got done working a 16 hour overnight shift. He does not qualify for a tss worker because his only disability is a speech delay due to lack of oxygen and then excessive oxygen prior to and following open heart surgery at one week old.

      • Teresa Thoroughman

        17 years ago, they forgot to bring my son home. He has CP, is nonverbal and could not walk on his own. The driver forgot he was on there, parked the bus and went home. He only had 2 children to take home as it was a special needs bus. After the incident, there was always someone on the bus. They had an aide to ride. I was at work and my mom kept calling them and me, was so frantic. It took them 1 hour to figure it out and he was asleep thank god. I did not sue, and the driver only was suspended.

  • Bus driver, soldier, tailor, tinker, spy

    “The family said they will be driving Nathan to school from now on.” Which is what should have happened to begin with. A bus driver shouldn’t have to concern themselves with someone that has ‘special needs’. What’s next, train them to give flu shots and emergency tracheotomies?

    • Jamee

      Wow!!! Not concern themselves??? They knew when taking the job all kinds of students go to public school, it’s the law. Pretty much in the job description it’s required to be responsible for all the students. Don’t like it get a different job

  • The brutal truth

    Why do special needs kids even go to school? Isn’t that considered an oxymoron? They can’t even learn. Never will. When he turns 18 he will collect Social Security Disability for the test of his life. Let’s just leave it at that.

  • Stinky

    My brother is special needs and fell asleep on the back of his bus when he was in the 1st or 2nd grade. He woke up at the garage where they park the buses. We laughed about it and it didn’t make the news

  • Bob Smith

    It doesn’t surprise me… Special needs kids always get screwed up by a careless bus drivers!
    When arriving at school. After the bus unload kids and the driver’s responsibility is walk back in bus to inspect if anyone still there and lost items. The driver didn’t follow the rules and putting kids lives in jeopardy. I’m wondering did the boy get enough sleep and have he eaten breakfast too?

    • Mary Alice

      It has been my experience that special needs children have tard guards aboard all school transportation, and this includes short buses, vans, etc. I wouldn’t want to drive a busload of kids for anything. Too much responsibility.

    • Jaclyn

      Yep, he had enough sleep. He goes to sleep at 8pm every night and I wake him at 7am to eat breakfast and shower. I spoke to Nathan and he said he didn’t fall asleep on the van. What happened, I don’t know because I wasn’t there but I do know my child is taken very well care of.

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