Greenfield schools respond to reported bus incident

  • This F.M. Kuzmeskus Inc. bus drops off children at a bus stop at the entrance of Oak Courts in Greenfield on Thursday afternoon. Staff Photo/Domenic Poli

Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2019 11:28:23 PM

GREENFIELD — Greenfield school officials have decided to “err on the side of caution” and prohibit a specific F.M. Kuzmeskus Inc. bus driver from transporting its schoolchildren after parents reported he demanded roughly 15 students get off at an inappropriate bus stop on the way home from school.

Superintendent Jordana Harper told The Recorder the Greenfield School Department received several phone calls around 4 p.m. Wednesday from Greenfield Middle School parents complaining that a substitute driver made children exit the vehicle before their proper stop. Harper said the district has hired additional bus monitors to ensure good student behavior on buses and to improve safety. She also said an investigation into the incident is underway.

Greenfield contracts its bus service to Kuzmeskus, which is based in Gill.

Some parents told The Recorder they were horrified to see a bus pull up to the entrance of Oak Courts on Wednesday afternoon with only three or four children on board. They say each of those children were screaming for help. The other students, they say, were forced to exit the vehicle at a stop near the Academy of Early Learning and had walk to their normal bus stop to be picked up.

Sarah Dandy, whose son and daughter were among the students who say they were forced off the bus, said many of those children were shaken and in tears as they made their way to their awaiting parents and guardians. She said the bus driver stopped the bus and angrily closed windows before leaving the Oak Courts stop.

Three children who were on that bus told The Recorder they had opened the windows because the driver had turned up the heat. They said the driver, who didn’t speak English well, was speeding, driving wrecklessly and often slamming the brakes. One boy, 12-year-old Daxson Sluder, said the driver was “actually crazy” and yelled at the students. Daxson was one of the students who stayed on the bus until the proper stop. The three children said the students were being loud, but no more than usual.

The parents said they understand children can be rambunctious, but they wish the driver could have better handled the situation, or at least notified parents of a problem.

“How can we stand in, as a parent, and make a difference if we’re not notified of it?” Dandy said, waiting for her children to be dropped off shortly after 3:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Pamela Reipold, one of the owners of F.M. Kuzmeskus Inc., said each child that was on that bus seems to tell a different story. She said the driver, who she declined to identify, told her that students were hanging out of the window and he was afraid they would jump out. Dandy said this is ridiculous, because school bus windows are too small for middle school students to fit through. She also said the students seem to have the same story of what happened.

Kuzmeskus General Manager Douglass Baker told The Recorder in an email that the children were not told to exit the school bus before their proper stop. Reipold said she was told the children got off the bus at the Academy of Early Learning by their own choice.

Reipold said there has previously been reported poor student behavior, calling it “really atrocious, quite honestly.” She said the students on Wednesday were “yelling, screaming, and throwing things.” The bus company has been working with the school department to try to remedy this problem. She said a Kuzmeskus school bus averages 40 to 50 children. She also said drivers “are never permitted to put students off the bus for behavior.”

“There’s nobody that takes safety to heart more than we do,” Reipold said. “It’s what we do.”

She said the driver who typically works that route was transporting basketball players to a game at the time. That driver, who the children said they like very much, was back Thursday. Reipold said her company has complete faith in Wednesday’s driver. She said bus drivers are vetted more than school teachers. She also said 50 percent of the company’s employees are drug-tested, even though the law requires only 25 percent.

Heather Cormier, Daxson’s mother, and Dandy said they are disappointed there is no audio or video recording of what occurred on the bus Wednesday. Reipold said the typical driver had his bus to transport the basketball players and Wednesday’s driver had a new bus that has not yet been equipped with cameras. She explained the buses do not come with cameras; Kuzmeskus custom-orders them. She said Kuzmeskus has been in business 97 years.

Reipold said that route briefly had a bus monitor, but she quit.

Cormier explained bus drivers are allowed to give students “bus tickets” as penalties; three such tickets prevents a student from taking the bus. But, she said, no students have received these.

Dandy said she hopes appropriate procedures will be put into place to deal with unruly children on school buses.

According to a letter from Greenfield Middle School Principal Karen Cousland to school families, she immediately called Greenfield School Department Transportation Coordinator Edward Voudren after receiving phone calls about the reported incident. The letter states communication between the bus company and the school district will be increased and improved.

The letter also states students taking the bus “are expected to follow the Student Handbook and maintain appropriate behavior while riding school transportation to/from school.” Cousland said students who do not properly behave on a bus or at a bus stop can be suspended from utilizing the bus service.

“The school reserves the right to impose additional consequences, as well,” she said.

The Student Handbook can be found at: bit.ly/2Ui9qHI.

Voudren, who said he has been on the job six weeks, said the school department could hire up to five more bus monitors. The school department, he said, pays for the training for these paid positions. He said the training is continuous, though the intial round lasts about eight hours.

Harper said anyone interested in becoming a bus monitor can visit the school department’s central office at 195 Federal St., Suite 100.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or
413-772-0261, ext. 262.




Greenfield Recorder

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