PELLA, Iowa (KCCI) — A Pella family is angry after their child was left alone in a school van for hours.
Three-year-old Alivea Cole is always on the go, rarely without a smile on her face. She often makes little noses to express her happiness.
But her aunt, Tiffany Spoelstra, said the Alivea she picked up from Lincoln Elementary School in Pella on Monday was a far cry from the norm.
“Her face was all red and there was sweat all on her hairline,” Spoelstra said. “She was very quiet, too.”
Aliveae never made it through school doors on Monday. When Spoelstra came to pick up her niece at the end of her school day after 10:45 a.m., she learned Alivea was never taken out of the school van by the driver. Spoelstra said the school didn’t know her niece was in the van until she came to pick her up and that’s when they looked in the van and found her.
“How do you miss a child in a minivan who was right behind the passenger seat? How do you miss a child?” Spoelstra said.
The Pella Community School District superintendent declined an interview, but told KCCI the driver is no longer with the district.
The district said attendance procedures for preschoolers and procedures for van drivers once they finish the route have been changed. The superintendent also said they are adding systems into vans to warn drivers of students left in a child seat.
For Spoelstra that’s not enough, especially for children left defenseless like her niece.
“She’s nonverbal. She can babble, but she can’t speak,” Spoelstra said.
Speolstra is not only Alivea’s aunt, but she’s also her foster mom who is in the process of legally adopting her. According to Spoelstra, part of the foster process is that Alivea be placed in early access education. It’s why Alivea goes to school four days out of the week.
Alivea has hearing aids that Spoelstra says were broken when they found her in the van and a feeding tube, one her aunt said doctors worry she’ll rip out. It’s why Spoelstra said her niece isn’t supposed to be left alone.
“With everything that’s additionally a danger to her, I don’t understand how she survived,” Spoelstra said.
Spoelstra said she’s grateful Alivea wasn’t physically hurt, and that she’s no longer phased by the incident.
But now she wants the school to take on more responsibilities so no parent has to go through what she went through.
The school district said they’re still investigating the incident, as is the Pella Police Department. The school also notified the Department of Human Services.
The family said they plan to continue to speak to the district about what needs to come next.
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