Bus incident angers parent; officials say safety was focus

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 25, 2010

An incident on an Ironton School bus last week has at least one parent upset with officials over how the situation was handled.

Kristin Martin, the mother of a 7-year-old student, is upset that her child was an hour and a half late getting to her bus stop Thursday afternoon because officials were searching the bus for what they thought could have been a weapon.

The episode started as an elementary school bus driver was taking students home, Superintendent Dean Nance said.

Email newsletter signup

After students became unruly, throwing things and standing up on the bus, the driver pulled off to the side of the road. It was then that the driver noticed a tear in one of the leather bus seats.

“We immediately wanted to make sure whatever gashed the seat was not a weapon,” Nance said.

The bus had not made it far from the school when the incident occurred. After the tear was discovered, the students were taken back to the school with escorts from the Ironton Police Department.

The students were kept at the school while officials searched the bus for weapons.

“It was an issue of safety,” Nance said. “It was not meant as a punishment for the kids who were not misbehaving. That was a decision that had to be made in terms of what was the lesser of the two evils, a student being late or making sure they were in a safe and secure situation.”

Martin said no one called to tell her that her child would be late. She waited at her daughter’s bus stop for an hour before she called the school and was finally told that the children were being held at the school.

“If you look up the definition of child abduction, that is exactly what happened when you failed to notify me or have my consent to keep my child in excess of an hour when she was expected to be at her bus stop by 3:15,” Martin wrote in an e-mail to Nance, which she copied to The Tribune.

Nance said that two secretaries were calling parents. Many of the parents had noticed their children being late and had called the school to check on them.

“(The secretaries) manned the phones the entire time we were searching the bus,” Nance said.

Martin is also concerned that the students were treated “like criminals” in that school officials told them that if the students responsible for the incident did not confess, they would be taken to jail.

“My daughter was taken back to the school, held over as if she had done something wrong, threatened … (and told) if they didn’t confess they would be taken to jail and not see their parents, according to my daughter, who was weeping when she finally made it to the bus stop an hour and half later than expected,” Martin wrote. “Furthermore, a police (car) followed the bus as if they were criminals on the bus.”

Nance denied that the students were ever threatened. Instead, he said that he and other officials discussed bus safety with the students.

“I was on the bus,” he said. “I talked to the kids. No one tried to scare the kids.”

Martin said her daughter is scared to ride the bus now.

“She’s terrified and I don’t want to have to worry every afternoon about what’s happening on the bus,” Martin said.

Officials found a sharp rock, which Nance believes could have been the object used to rip the leather seat.

Nance said a student picked up the rock while on a class walk for Earth Day. The student has been disciplined, though Nance did not say what that punishment is.

“I apologize that several students were late, but I’m not sorry for making sure it was a safe environment,” Nance said.

School officials have talked to several of the parents of students on the bus since the incident. The parents were very supportive, Nance said.

“I think (the bus driver) handled this particular situation correctly,” Nance said. He added that the parents who are upset that their children were late would be even more upset if officials had ignored the problem.

In the e-mail, Martin requested a meeting with school officials and parents concerning what she said have been ongoing problems on the bus.

“I realize changes cannot be made overnight, but this issue demands everyone’s immediate attention for the safety of our children and for the liability of the school system,” Martin wrote.