GROW A BACKBONE. Stand up for what you believe. Those words from Governor Deval Patrick thrilled Democrats in Charlotte and triggered a new round of speculation about his national ambitions.
Back home in Massachusetts, parents and early education providers hope Patrick will stand up in memory of Gabriel Josh-Cazir Pierre, the 17-month-old Boston boy who died in a sweltering day care van last September. They are calling on the governor to allocate $17 million to pay for adult monitors in vehicles transporting children under 5.
After the boy’s death, a special committee set up by the state Department of Early Education reviewed statutes and regulations governing the transportation needs of approximately 20,000 children from across the state. Most come from low-income families. Some are victims of abuse and neglect, and the early education programs they attend are often the most stable aspect of their lives.
The committee’s no-cost recommendations have already been implemented.
Providers must now notify parents immediately if a child does not arrive at child care, and parents must tell the program if their child will be absent. Van and bus drivers must keep a complete passenger log for each route. And after dropping off the last child, the driver must physically walk through a vehicle, inspect all seat surfaces, look under them, and check all compartments.
An extra pair of adult eyes is called for on every bus that takes infants, toddlers, and preschoolers to early education programs. And those eyes, of course, cost money.
But the committee also called for something else: an extra pair of adult eyes on every bus that takes infants, toddlers, and preschoolers to these programs. Those eyes, of course, cost money.
After the toddler’s death, the Globe’s Sean P. Murphy and Scott Allen reported that the agency that hired the preschool van driver who left the child in the sweltering vehicle for hours had considered adding a second adult to its vehicles after another driver was charged with raping a 5-year-old girl on his bus. However, the measure was considered too expensive, so it was never implemented.
It is still expensive, which is why the providers are asking the state to fund it.
‘Our feeling is, ‘Governor, we agree it’s a problem. Now you have to fund it,’ ” said William Eddy, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Early Education and Care, which represents providers.
Right after the child’s death, Sherri R. Killins, state commissioner of early education and care, said, “The governor and I are absolutely outraged over” the tragedy, along with earlier alleged assaults by the same driver. “That’s why we are determined to review all state policy so we can take steps to prevent this from ever happening again,” she said then.
The policy review was thorough. The recommendations are clear. Now the question is, who will pay to implement the most important one?
When I wrote about Gabriel’s death a year ago, I described it as a story of responsibility — the driver’s, the day-care center’s, and society’s.
The responsibilities of the driver and provider are obvious.
The driver never delivered the little boy to the home childcare provider in Dorchester, where he was supposed to spend the day. Instead, the driver parked the van outside his home around 9 a.m., thinking all the children had been safely delivered to their destinations. He found the boy at 3 p.m., when he got back into his van to begin the return trips home. The day-care provider never missed the little boy, so no parent was ever notified that he never showed up.
Now, what about the rest of us? Do we see the consequences as our responsibility or someone else’s?
There’s only limited money to spend today, especially for the safety net — that network of taxpayer-funded support that a caring society allocates for its most vulnerable members.
In the fiery speech he delivered in Charlotte, Patrick said Democrats believe in “an economy that grows opportunity out to the middle class and the marginalized.” He bravely mentioned a condition many politicians prefer to ignore — poverty — and spoke of the children it leaves in its wake. “Those children are America’s children, too, yours and mine . . . For this country to rise, they must rise.”
Before they can rise, they need to get safely to where they’re going every morning.