JCPS parent: 'All I want is for my daughter to be safe on the school bus'
JCPS is working with its bus drivers and administrators on a plan to deal with chronic behavior problems, but officials say some of the responsibility falls on parents.
(Editor's note: This is the second part of a two-part series conducted by WDRB News about disruptive behavior and violence on JCPS school buses. You can read the first story here).
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Each morning, Eden Clarke gets on her school bus in the Portland neighborhood and tries to ignore the behavior of the other kids around her.
The seventh-grader at Westport Middle says her 45-minute ride to and from school is often filled with lots of arguing, swearing and “kids who just won’t keep their hands to themselves.”
“In the afternoon, it’s pretty hectic,” says Eden, 13. “A few weeks ago, someone set some paper on fire. I’ve seen drugs. They are always cussing and yelling.”
Clarke’s mom, Loretta Self, said she has called Jefferson County Public Schools officials dozens of times since the beginning of the year to tell them about the issues taking place on her daughter’s bus.
"All I want is for my daughter to be safe on the school bus, I don’t want to have to worry," Self said. “It makes me so mad because they say they have it under control. They don’t have it under control. The bad kids are still on the bus and the good kids have to suffer.”
JCPS school board member Linda Duncan says complaints from parents and bus drivers about behavior on buses have concerned and worried her for years.
“It’s actually been a concern of mine since I was an assistant principal,” said Duncan, who retired from the district in 2004 and has been a school board member since 2006. “From the time I first got on the board, the very first thing I said was that I wanted to see that we get bus monitors on certain runs.”
“It’s an obvious need,” Duncan said. “The bus driver cannot drive the bus and deal with all the commotion going on in the back.”
JCPS transports 70,000 students to and from school daily and the vast majority of student behave when riding the bus, says Michael Raisor, the district’s chief operations officer.
“We are in the education business, we want to transport children to and from school safely,” he told WDRB in an interview. “I am concerned about each and every incident on a bus.”
Fights on buses have soared this school year, according to a WDRB News review of JCPS data. Through the first 70 days of this school year, there have been 306 student fights on buses – a 31 percent increase from the 234 student fights on buses last year.
Each year, JCPS bus drivers write thousands of student referrals for unacceptable bus behavior – ranging from relatively minor incidents such as repeatedly turning around in the seat to more serious incidents such as fighting.
There have been 2,763 bus referrals through the first 70 days of this school year, compared to 2,797 referrals written during the same time period as last year, according to data obtained by WDRB under Kentucky’s open records law.
The data shows there have been 1,069 bus suspensions so far this year – down from the 1,076 bus suspensions during the same time period last year. Officials say the average suspension from riding the school bus lasts about three days.
And while the majority of students “straighten up and fly right” after receiving one or two referrals, Raisor said about a fourth of the 501 students who have received a referral this year are repeat offenders.
JCPS is working with drivers and administrators on a plan to deal with chronic behavior problems, but Raisor warned that some of this falls on the parents.
"I want families to realize that every time your child misbehaves on a bus it is dangerous because you take the driver's attention away from doing what their job is,” Raisor said.
On Monday, a Crosby Middle School sixth grader was rushed to the hospital following a fight on bus while the driver was on Interstate 64.
“I have been telling them since the first week of school that there are too many kids on that bus and that someone was going to end up getting hurt,” said the girl’s mother, who WDRB is not identifying in order to protect her identity. “Well guess what? My daughter got hurt. She her eye is swollen – it’s closed shut.”
The girl’s mother, who works for JCPS, said she is also upset she found out that her daughter was being transported to the hospital from the parent of another child on the bus.
“I called the bus compound and they gave me the wrong hospital,” she said. “They told me to go to Kosair downtown, so for 25 minutes I was at the wrong hospital while my daughter was at another hospital."
JCPS spokeswoman Bonnie Hackbarth admits to the confusion, but said the district was told by EMS that they were transporting the student to Kosair.
“No one told (us) that they decided to take her to a different hospital,” Hackbarth said. “We will look into this and see why we weren’t given updated information that the destination had changed.”
Since August, WDRB has spoken with hundreds of JCPS teachers, parents, students and other staff members who say they are frustrated with the disruptive behavior and what they consider to be a lax response from district officials.
JCPS bus drivers are among the latest group of employees who say they are frustrated with the behavior. Since the start of the year, 90 have left the district.
Of that number, 26 retired – the rest either resigned or were fired, according to district officials.
In addition, between 130-140 bus drivers call in sick every day.
Adniana Harris says she’s seen bullying, cursing, spitting, fights and assaults –– often while she's trying to monitor traffic signals and navigate around pedestrians and other cars while driving a 38-foot-long bus that weighs more than 20,000 pounds.
“We need help from the district and we need to start holding these students and their parents accountable,” she said.
There have been times Eden Clarke has been so worried about riding her bus that she can’t sleep at night.
“She’s been smacked in the head, bullied and threatened,” Loretta Self says. “She is so stressed out that she wakes up in the middle of the night throwing up.”
When WDRB asked Eden if there been times when she's been on the bus where you have not felt safe. Her response: "Pretty much a lot of the time."
Westport Middle School principal Jodie Zeller said he is aware of the problems on Eden's bus, as well as some other buses. He said he has been paying his school resource officer extra money to ride some of his bus routes in the morning.
Zeller says he would have the officer ride more routes in the afternoon, but he needs him at the school to assist with dismissal.
"Extra bus monitors on some of these buses would help," he said.
But Self questions what good extra bus monitors will do if the district doesn't discipline students appropriately.
"I want the bad kids off the bus," she said. "It's the same kids doing the same things. Quit slapping their hands and putting them back on the bus. Let them get an education in juvenile detention."
- JCPS bus drivers struggle to control fights, other dangerous behavior
- LMPD chief outlines what officers can and can't do at schools in letter to JCPS superintendent
- Two fights on JCPS bus, one student transported to hospital
- Student behavior and discipline hot topic at JCPS school board meeting
- SUNDAY EDITION | Safety, lack of support causes some JCPS teachers to resign
Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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