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Wellesley boy put on Metco bus by mistake

A black kindergartner who lives in Wellesley was mistaken for a student in the Metco desegregation program, put on a Metco bus at the end of his after-school program on Tuesday, and erroneously dropped off in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood, program officials said.

The boy, whom officials did not identify, was returned safely to his home later Tuesday after the parent of a Metco student who saw him get off the bus in Boston called his family.

The executive director of the after-school program, which is run by the private, nonprofit Wellesley Community Children's Center, yesterday called the mixup inadvertent. But Mary C. Kloppenberg, the executive director, said she has launched an investigation into whether racial bias clouded the judgment of the white teacher who directed the child to the Metco bus on the first day of school.

The boy returned Wednesday and yesterday to the after-school program, which is housed at Wellesley High School.

It was not clear yesterday why the boy was allowed to board the bus to Boston. Metco's executive director, Jean McGuire, said there is a Metco kindergartner in the after-school program with a similar first name as the Wellesley boy, and she theorized that the names might have caused some confusion.

Kalise Jacobs, director of Wellesley's Metco program, said that the Metco monitor who rides the bus with the children did not check to see that the right students boarded. The monitor thought that the center's staff sent the correct group of riders, she said.

Metco bus monitors will now take attendance each afternoon, she added.

In a letter to parents sent home with students Wednesday, the Wellesley Community Children's Center accepted responsibility for the incident. "The mistake was ours, and we are in close communication with the child's family," Kloppenberg wrote in the letter.

She could not be reached for comment last night on McGuire's theory about the similar names.

Uncertainty over how such a mistake was made has prompted some soul-searching in Wellesley, a predominantly white community that is proud of its participation in the voluntary desegregation program, which buses minority children from Boston into suburban public schools.

About 13 percent of the approximately 4,000 students in the Wellesley public schools are minorities. Four percent are black.

Wellesley's school superintendent, Matthew King, called the incident "outrageous" and said he would seize the moment to talk to his principals about the thorny issues it raises.

"To me, it is a community issue, and people are quick to make assumptions. I think we can use this as a teachable moment for the school system and the community," King said. "It should raise people's awareness that you don't make assumptions that because a child is African-American that they're a Boston student."

The Wellesley Community Children's Center, a 32-year-old organization run by local parents, offers programs for children ages 3 months to eighth grade. The center has a "very good" record with the state Office of Child Care Services and reported the transportation mixup immediately, a state official said.

In her letter to parents, Kloppenberg said she would form a committee to review the incident.

"We don't ever want this to happen again," she said in an interview. "We're very concerned about the safety of our children, and we need to make sure we address these issues."

Kloppenberg said she did not think that the after-school teacher assumed that the child was a Metco student because he was black, but said that question is part of her inquiry.

"That's a question that we need to, as an organization, review and take some steps to identify," Kloppenberg said. "We're all deeply committed to these children and their families."

The Metco program, which serves approximately 3,100 students, buses about 140 Boston pupils to Wellesley, including 10 kindergartners so far this year, King said. The school district has a contract with Local Motion, a Newton company, to provide the transportation.

On Tuesday, the first day of school, Wellesley kindergartners were bused to the Wellesley Community Children's Center after-school site at Wellesley High School for a noon-to-3 p.m. session. The boy who mistakenly boarded the Metco bus was supposed to be picked up by his mother, Kloppenberg said.

Kloppenberg would not say why one of the after-school teachers thought the boy belonged on the bus, saying that was part of the investigation. The teacher remains on the job, she said.

The bus dropped off a group of Metco children, including the Wellesley boy, at a stop in Dorchester. A Metco parent who did not recognize the boy as a Metco student found his family's contact information in his backpack and took him to her Mattapan home, where she called the child's family, Kloppenberg said. The boy's aunt picked him up, she said.

This is the second year that the Wellesley schools have contracted with Local Motion to pick up and drop off Metco students in Mattapan, Roxbury, Dorchester, and Hyde Park, according to Bruce Barrows, the company's director and co-owner. The company runs four buses daily.

"The children were put on the bus, accepted onto the bus, and accepted off the bus by someone other than the bus driver," Barrows said. "The responsibility of monitoring the entry or exit of elementary school children does not reside with Local Motion." The driver, whom Barrows did not identify, has worked for Local Motion for six years. The man is "morally, ethically, totally responsible," Barrows said. Local Motion transports 1,500 to 1,800 children daily for various schools and programs, he said.

Barrows said the company was still gathering information about the incident and had heard conflicting details.

Megan Tench of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Suzanne Sataline contributed to this report.

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