By Ralph Echtinaw
The parents of two children attending St. Louis schools delivered a petition containing 13 signatures to the school board Monday to protest a bus driver who, they say, is overzealous in disciplining students for their actions on the bus and drives recklessly.
“He tends to target our kids, and he writes up for frivolous things, and sometimes he is very delayed in sending out the discipline,” Joe Joslin told the board. “A lot of the kids would say that he’s a reckless driver or he’s bad at driving. It’s not just our kids. There are other kids on the bus route that he tends to target and pick on.”
The final straw for Joslin’s partner Kendra Inbody came when her son was “kicked off three days for a safety violation because he boarded the bus here at the high school instead of the middle school. I asked for a written policy and one was not given to me. My son has friends who walk from the middle school to the high school every day and ride the bus. They’ve never been written up or kicked off. However they ride a different bus than (our son’s).”
Inbody said that the reasons the bus driver cites for writing up students are not specific. “It’s nothing that I can say ‘Danica, why were you hanging out in the aisle? Or why were you hanging over the bus seat talking to Johnny behind you?’ It’s nothing like that. It just says mischief, horseplay.”
The discipline notices usually come days after the infractions, Inbody said. “My daughter got wrote up on Thursday and I didn’t receive the disciplinary note until the next Tuesday. How can I address something if it’s several days later? If it’s that bad why is it taking that long to get it?”
School board members asked Joslin and Inbody if they have taken their concerns to the administration. “I’ve talked to (Transportation Director) Ernie Teall many times,” Inbody said. “And I’ve talked to (Superintendent) Kristi (Teall), and I haven’t gotten anywhere.”
How did Joslin and Inbody collect signatures on their petition? Joslin said they followed the bus to see where kids are picked up and returned to the houses later, knocking on doors, explaining their concerns and asked each homeowner to sign their petition. The 13 who did had similar experiences with the bus driver, Joslin said.
“We, the SLSB as well as our administrators and personnel welcome public concerns and take them seriously,” said board Vice President Kelly Bebow via email. “However, we also take the safety of our students very seriously. We are responsible for each and every student while they are in our care, which can be assumed to be from the time the student steps on our bus in the morning until he or she is delivered safely home each afternoon. It has been a longstanding policy that students are to get on and off the bus at their designated school and NOT run to another school to get on the bus as allowing the students to do so could not only present a safety concern but chaos for our bus drivers who need to be focused on the safety of the students on their bus. This concern presented by Ms. Inbody and Mr. Joslin is a non-issue to me as this has been the policy my children and other children in the district have been asked to follow for years. The other concerns raised by Ms. Inbody and Mr. Joslin are being investigated by our administrators who will report back to the board at our next scheduled meeting.”
Superintendent Kristi Teall had this to say via email: “The policy of having all bus students boarding the bus at the school they are attending has been practiced since I have been with the district, and I came here in 1991. This is a long-standing practice that we continue to use. We do it for the safety of our students. I cannot give you specifics regarding this situation as I cannot discuss students and/or any situation they are involved in. The complaint was looked into, and the decision to support the bus driver was made due to a policy we have had for years and for the safety of all students.”
Teall said the district has had 14 snow days to date. The state allows for six snow days per school year and will generally grant waivers for three more. That would still leave St. Louis five days over the limit.
These days will have to be made up somehow, but the process isn’t simple. “If we have more days missed between now and the end of the year, we will have to make those up also,” Teall said. “There are a lot of moving pieces to this. We’ll talk this week, and come up with a good plan, a tentative plan, and go from there.”
Jeff Baxter, Don Kelley, Greg Walterhouse, Carrie Beeson, John Pavlik and Kelly Bebow were present. Carrie Salladay was absent.