06/10/10 — Greenwood parents upset over school bus discipline

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Greenwood parents upset over school bus discipline

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on June 10, 2010 1:46 PM

Greenwood Middle School parents are still searching for answers today after they said about 15 students were held on a hot bus -- unknown to them and apparently to other school officials -- Wednesday afternoon by the driver.

Tami Reavis, parent of a fifth-grader at the school, explained that the bus usually drops the children off at the youth center on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base at about 2:45 p.m. -- the time when she arrived there.

About 10 minutes later, she said her child still had not arrived. When she went inside to ask if anybody at the center had heard from the school, she was told that the bus had arrived, dropped about three or four students off and left again to take care of a discipline issue.

"That's when I was told only a few students had gotten off the bus and that the rest were being taken back to the school to be written up," Mrs. Reavis said. "But they never made it there."

She explained that after being told the bus was on its way back to Greenwood she headed to the school, calling on her way. However, she said, she was told the bus had not arrived and that they hadn't heard from the driver, Jedidiah Hayes.

During this time, Chameeka Brooks, also a fifth-grade parent, was texting with her son who was on the bus.

She explained that they usually text while he is on his way home about how his day was, and that while doing so Wednesday he said that somebody had thrown something in the back of the bus and that they were likely to get in trouble for it. He then told her that the bus was going back to the school. A while later, Mrs. Brooks said she asked him where they were and he replied that he didn't know -- that the bus hadn't gone back to the school, that it was hot, that Ms. Hayes had turned the air conditioner off and wouldn't let them roll the windows down.

The child also told his mother that a couple of the students had "passed out" from the heat.

Eventually the bus returned to the youth center.

One of the students who was said to have passed out was Mrs. Reavis' son.

"He's OK," she said, adding that he didn't remember actually passing out. "He said he just remembers being real light-headed and feeling really hot and nauseous and trying to stay awake. Then he just remembers hearing voices, people calling his name, and being real fuzzy."

Mrs. Brooks was at the youth center when the bus returned and said the students who got off were dripping with sweat, were very red in the face and were fighting over getting to the water and Gatorade there.

The bus driver, she said, simply defended her actions.

"She felt that she was well within her rights because of the discipline problems that were happening on the bus," Mrs. Brooks said. "I respect the fact she doesn't want anyone throwing things on the bus, but what happened after that is what I have a problem with."

And, she and Ms. Reavis said that when they went to speak to school officials Thursday, they were unable to get a satisfactory answer.

"She (the assistant principal Makita Jenkins) told us that the bus driver had a lapse in judgment and that she should have returned to the school because it's up to the vice principal to take care of discipline," Ms. Reavis said.

But when told the Ms. Hayes was still driving Thursday morning and that she would simply receive a letter of reprimand, she said she and the other parents became upset.

And more than anything, fellow fifth-grade parent Stephanie Kernan said, that's what upset them -- that they felt like their concerns were being ignored.

"If they'd just said it's under investigation, she's not driving, your child is safe, that would have been the end of it. But to kind of brush it off ...," she said.

Additionally, Mrs. Reavis said Ms. Jenkins asked the parents to not speak to the press about the incident.

Later Thursday, principal Rolanda Best referred all questions to school spokesman Ken Derksen. Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor was unavailable for comment.

By the end of the day Thursday, Derksen said a substitute driver had taken over the route and would be running it for the rest of the school year, which ends today.

He would not say what, if any other action had been taken in regard to incident, calling it a personnel matter. Ms. Hayes has driven a bus for Greenwood Middle School since the beginning of the spring semester.

He did say, however, that the incident had been investigated by school administrators and central office staff -- that they had talked to the bus driver and interviewed all the students on the bus - something both Mrs. Brooks and Mrs. Reavis questioned, saying they did not believe that they had spoken with their sons. Derksen also was not sure how many parents had been contacted, although, again, both Mrs. Brooks and Mrs. Reavis said they had not been in any further contact with school officials.

"The safety of our students is our top priority, but we also have a responsibility to protect the rights of our employees, and we need to make sure we have all the facts of the story and deal with it appropriately," Derksen said.

He then explained that the driver did indeed drop several students not involved in the disruption off at the youth center. The others, he said, she kept on the bus until she finished her route, which typically takes a total of 30 minutes, upon which time she returned to the center. He added that while she did attempt to make contact with the proper school officials, because of a staff meeting, it was not clear if she ever actually did.

However, he said, "That is not a typical procedure."

He explained that under normal circumstances, when there is a problem on a bus, the children are dropped off at the appropriate stops and then any investigation and disciplinary action is follow up on in the morning by appropriate school officials.

He also acknowledged that bus driver did turn off the rear air conditioning unit for about 20 minutes, but said that she did so to talk to the students and to be able to hear them as she tried to determine who was responsible for the incident.

He also said that through their interviews Thursday, school officials were not able to confirm claims of students passing out or suffering from symptoms of heat exhaustion. It was unclear, though, if a school nurse or anybody else with medical training was involved in the questioning.

"We confirmed no students became dehydrated and no students required medical attention," Derksen said.