LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Two-thirds of the discipline referrals written by Jefferson County Public Schools bus drivers involve students who ride only 5 percent of the district’s 964 bus routes, according to data obtained by WDRB under Kentucky’s open records law.
Of the 2,763 bus referrals written through the first 70 days of the 2015-16 year, 1,830 of the referrals came from the 50 routes previously identified by the district as the most ‘challenging’ in Louisville.
Those 1,830 referrals – individually inspected by WDRB – stemmed from relatively minor incidents such as students repeatedly turning around in their seats, refusing to sit down or littering on the bus to more serious incidents such as fighting, having a weapon or committing another criminal act.
Discipline for those referrals range from a student or parent conference or bus suspension to an out-of-school suspension or placement at an alternative school.
Michael Raisor, chief operations officer for JCPS, said the district transports 70,000 students to and from school daily. He says while the vast majority of students behave while riding the bus, the district could be reaching a point where they ban students from riding the bus altogether.
"I think in certain circumstances, that might be appropriate," Raisor said. "If we can document that we have worked with the student, reached out to their family and potentially suspended them off the bus for shorter periods of time and they are endangering other students and the bus driver, I think banning them from the bus would be an appropriate measure."
Raisor added it’s “important to remember that JCPS makes 5,400 bus runs each day – about 378,000 bus runs so far this year.”
“We see one referral for every 137 bus runs and one fight every 1,235 bus runs,” he said. “But your conclusion is correct; the majority of referrals are on the challenging routes. We are aware of and are addressing this.”
An example of some of the referrals WDRB inspected:
"(Student) was fighting two students on the bus. I separated them, she jumped out the emergency exit (back) and they were fighting on the sidewalk at 21st and Main St.”
“Will not sit down. I have to constantly tell her to sit down. This is not safe. She prevents me from seeing out my back windows.”
“Went to another student’s seat and was punching him. He treated the student like a punching bag.”
"Was fighting on the bus with another student, she jumped out the back emergency exit door."
“Extremely (unsafe)...Had a razor blade on the bus swinging it at another student’s face. He will not stay in his seat.”
“Burned another student with his lighter.”
“Likes to poke his head outside the bus window.”
“Was fighting with (student). Had it under control once but (student) came from the back and started hitting (student) again. This happened on I-264 and put bus in danger. Police entered and they talked to students.”
“Not sitting in assigned seat. Stand by aisle while bus is moving. Not obeying orders. Taunting others. Giving wrong name 3 or 4 times.”
Last summer, experienced bus drivers were offered incentives to take one of 50 “challenging” routes that had been identified by the district based on a school's number of discipline problems, bus referrals and driver turnover.
But only 13 drivers with the qualifications to pick up the incentive bid on the “challenging” routes, which offered up to an additional $2 an hour in pay. The rest of those routes were assigned to less experienced drivers, some of which have bus monitors, district officials say.
Bus monitors – who assist the bus driver in supervising, loading and unloading students – make about $20,000 a year. For one bus monitor to be on each of the “challenging” routes, it would cost approximately $1 million.
Raisor said Tuesday he wasn't sure how many bus monitors are on the challenging routes, but added the district struggles to attract bus monitors because of the split-shifts involved and pay range.
Among the bus routes with the most referrals (50 or more):
- Bus No. 830: 137 referrals. Transports students to and from Minor Daniels Academy and Roosevelt Perry Elementary from the Russell and Shawnee neighborhoods
- Bus No. 737: 125 referrals. Transports students to and from Westport Middle from the Portland neighborhood
- Bus No. 415: 124 referrals. Transports students to and from Highland Middle and St. Matthews Elementary from the Village West, Beecher Terrace, Parkland and Portland neighborhoods
- Bus No. 607: 84 referrals. Transports students to and from Zachary Taylor Elementary from the Village West and Beecher Terrace neighborhood
- Bus No. 756: 83 referrals: Transports students to and from Minor Daniels Academy and Roosevelt Perry Elementary from the Parkland, Russell and Duvalle neighborhoods
- Bus No. 777: 77 referrals: Transports students to and from Zachary Taylor Elementary from the Shawnee and Russell neighborhoods
- Bus No. 934: 75 referrals: Transports students to and from Lassiter Middle and Minors Lane Elementary from the Southern Heights and Auburndale neighborhoods
- Bus No. 829: 66 referrals: Transports students to and from Breckinridge Metro High and King Elementary from the Parkland, Duvalle and Russell neighborhoods
- Bus No. 1341: 64 referrals: Transports students to and from Liberty High from the Kenwood Hill neighborhood
- Bus No. 775: 62 referrals: Transports students to and from Ramsey Middle from the Parkland neighborhood
- Bus No. 317: 57 referrals: Transports students to and from Stuart Middle and Greenwood Elementary from the Shively and Shawnee neighborhoods
- Bus No. 292: 51 referrals: Transports students to and from Minor Daniels Academy and Jacob Elementary from the Wyandotte and Churchill Downs neighborhoods
- Bus No. 575: 51 referrals: Transports students to and from Minor Daniels Academy and McFerran Elementary from the Portland, Shawnee and Wyandotte neighborhoods
- Bus No. 738: 51 referrals: Transports students to and from Crosby Middle from the Russell neighborhoods
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 in classrooms and on the district's buses.
According to previous data obtained by WDRB and reported in December, there were 2,763 bus referrals through the first 70 days of this school year, down just slightly from the 2,797 referrals written during the same time period as last year.
The data showed there were 1,069 bus suspensions during that time frame – down from the 1,076 bus suspensions during the same time period last school 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 one-fourth of the 501 students who have received a referral this year are repeat offenders.
“We have 125 students who have five or more referrals,” he told WDRB in December. “We are going to name and claim them and develop a plan with the bus driver for those students.”
Earlier this month, Raisor said the district also updated its protocols when it comes to recording bus referrals, in response to concerns that some of the problems on buses where not being properly documented in Infinite Campus, the state's data storing system.
In an email sent to administrators, Raisor said bus drivers will continue to give the referrals to their bus compounds, who then scan them in and email them to the area assistant superintendent's office. He said the assistant superintendent will then sort, catalog and route referrals to the specific schools for both morning and evening runs.
"It is the expectation that bus referrals will be handled within 24 hours of receipt," Raisor said.
Adding a review of the referrals at the assistant superintendent level will help ensure they are being handled in a timely and consistent manor, he said.
John Stovall, president of Teamsters Local 783, who represents all of the district’s 1,100 bus drivers, told WDRB on Tuesday that he is happy with the updated protocols and the establishment of a new task force that will "help keep communication flowing."
The task force met last week and among the things discussed was "trying to find additional money for bus monitors."
"I feel like JCPS is finally on the same page as we are with these behavior issues," Stovall said.
Disruptive student behavior on buses has been a problem the district has been trying to combat for years.
Three years ago, JCPS spent $2 million to install digital video cameras on each of the district’s school buses. At the time, officials said they hoped the cameras would cut down on the number of referrals and bad behavior.
Raisor said he has also had a group of parents and community members approach him about volunteering to ride the buses as monitors.
"We are looking at a number of options," he said. "We want to find a solution we can all live with."
- JCPS bus drivers struggle to control fights, other dangerous behavior
- JCPS parent: 'All I want is for my daughter to be safe on the school bus'
- 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
- JCPS bus drivers approve incentives for working more "challenging" routes
Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
Copyright 2016 WDRB News. All rights reserved.