An Arizona boy with autism was kicked off a school bus for not wearing a mask — and then ran away before he was found moments later, according to a report.
Jack Griffith, a 5-year-old Mesa boy, was set to start kindergarten Wednesday, but was “already super emotionally torn up” about hopping on a school bus for his first-ever classroom experience, his parents told the Arizona Republic.
“He told me he was scared in his tummy, and we talked about what being nervous means,” Jack’s mom, Beth Griffith, 33, told the newspaper.
Despite his anxiety, Griffith’s son was “happy and excited” about starting the school year at Bush Elementary School, where he’s in a special-needs classroom.
But that exuberance changed in an instant when a bus driver told Griffith and her husband, Troy Griffith, 36, that a mask would be mandatory for Jack to get a ride to school — despite Troy claiming he called the district’s transportation department late Tuesday and was told that students with special needs weren’t required to wear them on buses, the newspaper reports.
The bus driver proceeded to call a district staffer who said Jack couldn’t get on the bus without a mask, leaving Beth Griffith puzzled since only three children were on board, making social distancing “100 percent achievable,” she said.
Jack was “absolutely devastated” about being denied a ride to school, so Griffith’s husband decided to drive him. The boy then went into the family’s garage as his dad got his shoes on, assuming he was waiting in the car, Griffith said.
Less than two minutes later, the couple went into the garage and found no sign of Jack, sparking “just instant terror,” his mother said.
As Beth Griffith called cops, her “freaked out” husband began running down a street, thinking Jack may have decided to follow the school bus, the newspaper reports.
A 14-year-old girl driving with her father then spotted the boy unharmed while playing in a puddle at about the same time his father caught up to him just moments after he disappeared.
Griffith ultimately drove his son to school and a staffer later told him the bus driver erred when barring the boy from riding without a mask. The staffer also confirmed Jack — who cannot wear a mask for long periods of time due to his autism — would be allowed to ride without a face covering in the future, Beth Griffith told the newspaper.
School district officials have since apologized, Beth Griffith said early Thursday on Instagram, where she shared a 2-minute video of her son going back to bed when she told him he could ride the bus to school.
“So even though the school has apologized, he’s definitely terrified to ride the bus now,” the post read.
A message seeking comment from Mesa Public Schools was not immediately returned, but spokeswoman Heidi Hurst told the Arizona Republic that masks are required on buses unless an exception is made for students “in need of reasonable accommodations” as defined by the Rehabilitation Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Hurst’s statement also noted that Jack’s parents “chose to have their child not ride the bus” after being told a mask was required, the Arizona Republic reports.
Reached for comment, Beth Griffith told The Post her son managed to board the bus early Thursday, although he was “extremely upset and confused.” An aide helped him put on a mask, but Griffith told him he could take it off if it became too much.
“He’s very overwhelmed and confused by everything that’s happened over the last two days,” Griffith wrote in a message while disputing how school officials’ version of events.
“The district’s statement that we chose to not have him ride couldn’t be more inaccurate and our neighbor who standing nearby can verify.”