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After Child Left On Bus, Head Start Teacher Headed To Trial

August 1, 2018

Michael Peregrim spent 25 years teaching young children. He will now head to trial because prosecutors contend he put one of those children in danger. The impending trial has caused parents to rally in support of the teacher, who police charged after a 3-year-old child was left on a bus in April. Police found her later that morning, still strapped in her seat, as the bus sat unattended in a grocery store parking lot. The bus driver and bus aide admitted to not checking the vehicle after they unloaded the children at the Head Start classroom in Covington Twp., and police say Peregrim, of Old Forge, failed to count the children when they got to the classroom. The charges against Peregrim, including a felony count of endangering the welfare of children, and a misdemeanor count of recklessly endangering another person, have his attorney questioning the judgement of prosecutors. “It’s devastating in the senses that not only has his identity been tarnished, but he’s been accused of endangering children he has spent his entire life protecting and caring for, as though they were his own,” attorney Corey Kolcharno said. “This is a horrific experience for both him and his family.” The bus driver, David Durdock, who worked for Red Top/Northeastern Transportation, and Stacey Webber, a bus aide for Head Start, also face the same charges. Prosecutors said all three — the bus driver, aide and teacher — violated their “duty of care” that April morning. “We felt we had to file charges to hopefully deter conduct of this nature,” Lackawanna County First Assistant District Attorney Judith Price said. “This child was placed in a very dangerous situation.” Missing student Rain fell as Peregrim stood outside the Head Start classrooms on the North Pocono High School campus on the morning of April 25. Head Start was short two staff members that day, and Peregrim was in a hurry to get the children inside the building from the buses. The children used the restrooms, washed their hands and sat down for breakfast. Peregrim did not immediately count the children or check the attendance sheet handed to him by Webber, according to the affidavit. As a teacher’s aide entered meal data into a computer, she called the student’s mother to ask why the girl was not in school. Staff members then realized the girl was missing and believed she may still be on the bus. The driver of the bus, Durdock, routinely parked the vehicle in the parking lot near Bill’s ShopRite on the Drinker Turnpike between pick-up and dismissal. As North Pocono’s school resource office approached the unattended bus, he could hear the girl crying. He found her in the second seat from the front, buckled into her booster seat. Durdock, 65, said he never did a sweep of the bus and never saw or heard the student. Webber, 42, said she also never checked to make sure all of the students got off the bus, as her job required her to do. Peregrim, Durdock and Webber were all fired after the incident. If convicted on both charges, each faces fines of up to $20,000 and up to nine years in prison. Difficult decision Durdock, of Jefferson Twp., and Webber, of Covington Twp., waived preliminary hearings. During Peregrim’s preliminary hearing last week, nearly a dozen parents and others who know Peregrim came to support him. A petition online, signed by more than 100 people, asks for the Scranton Lackawanna Human Development Agency, which operates local Head Start preschool classrooms, to rehire Peregrim. Barbara Findeis, whose grandchildren and great-nephew all had “Mr. Mike” as their teacher, has helped lead the efforts to support him. “He is absolutely wonderful ... he’s very attentive and very polite. He’s always there for the children,” she said. “The kids in this area benefitted from Mr. Mike. He’s not just a teacher. He’s family.” Peregrim may be an exceptional teacher, but Price said he made an “egregious mistake” when he failed to immediately look at the attendance sheet. Three people failed to do their jobs that morning, she said. Filing charges was “very painful and difficult decision for us to make,” Price said. Kolcharno called the charges a “travesty.” A trial date has not been set yet. “In no way, shape or form should this man be facing criminal charges based on this set of circumstances,” Kolcharno said. “This is a highly dedicated, caring and compassionate individual who has devoted his entire life to protecting children.” Contact the writer: shofius@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9133; @hofiushallTT on Twitter

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