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Driver: Violence on buses unusual for Longview ISD

By Sarah Thomas sthomas@news-journal.com
Aug. 7, 2013 at 11 p.m.


Earlene Moon took the wheel of a Longview ISD school bus 25 years ago.

It is an era she fondly recalled Wednesday while discussing the vicious beating of a 13-year-old boy on a Florida school bus.

"We are living in a different time," the veteran bus driver said. "Some of these kids don't know what respect is anymore."

A cellphone recording of the June 9 beating shows three 15-year-old boys kicking and punching the younger boy who was pinned between two seats on a Gulfport, Fla., school bus while driver John Moody radioed for help.

"You gotta get somebody here quick, quick, quick, quick," Moody is heard on the video. "They're about to beat this boy to death over here."

The attack left the boy with two black eyes and a broken arm.

Moody never stepped in and school officials in the seaside town just south of Tampa, Fla., have said Moody acted according to school policy.

But Moon said Wednesday sometimes adults charged with the care and welfare of children have to realize when physical action is warranted.

"Sometimes I hear drivers say 'if I lose my job, I lose my job. I'm not going to let a child get killed or end up paralyzed because I didn't do anything,' " she said.

But Moon admits it's difficult for bus drivers and other school employees to step in because by law, they are not supposed to touch the students.

"If I see it, I can stop the bus, and I can go back there. But we are not allowed to put our hands on these children," she explained. "We are not allowed to touch them by law."

She added she wouldn't hesitate to act if a situation escalates to a point where she has no choice.

"Yes, I would do that, but it would have to be at that point," she said.

School bus surveillance cameras, she added, can protect drivers who encounter situations that require physical attention.

Once a driver has to use physical force, the cameras can show just how serious the situation was.

Ray Miller, director of operations for Longview ISD, said the district has a zero tolerance policy against bullying and fighting on school buses, and takes such behavior serious whether on campus or on district vehicles.

Longview ISD bus drivers are instructed to pull the bus over to a safe parking place, try to verbally break up the altercation and move other students away from the fight.

"Although the drivers are told not to become physically involved in an altercation with students, they have also been told to intervene if a student is being beat unmercifully, being careful to protect themselves in the process," Miller wrote in an email.

He added bus drivers also are supposed to contact the dispatcher whenever an altercation happens on a school bus.

"Then depending on the severity of the altercation, age of the students, etc. a decision will be made whether or not to call the police," Miller wrote.

Moon said she has dealt with situations involving name calling and shoving, but she almost always manages to get the students involved to calm down and think about their actions.

"I've had a shoving situation, but I stopped it dead in its tracks," she said.

Moon believes most altercations that erupt on school buses - whether physical or verbal - are the result of something that happened on campus earlier in the day.

"I look at it from the minute I open the door. You can tell which child isn't getting along at the bus stop, and I stop it before they get on the bus," she said.

Once they are on the bus, Moon stays on alert until the last student is dropped off, listening and watching for any signs of trouble.

"I may hear someone calling someone a name or see a child cowering or one standing up," Moon said. "I have to see if they are serious or playing. Do I need to make a report? Do I need to say something? Do I need to call dispatch?"

And talking, Moon said, is often an effective approach as long as the adult knows how to handle the situation and can tell them what they need to hear at that moment.

"One time I did pull the bus over. I did it in front of everybody. I just looked at them and said 'why are you doing this? How would you feel if the tables were turned and someone was doing this to you?' " she said describing a bully she encountered on her route.

She added the student involved dropped her head down and realized what she had done was wrong.

<h3>Pine Tree ISD</h3>

School officials said district policies outline how drivers are supposed to react to violence on school buses, with physical contact being an absolute last resort.

Scott Mann, transportation supervisor for Pine Tree ISD, said bus drivers are instructed to "pull the bus over to a safe place, attempt to settle the fight between students without endangering the other students and call for help."

Though the goal is to not have any physical altercations, district officials said, they recognize there are instances that may require a bus driver to physically react.

"We at Pine Tree ISD instruct our bus drivers to put the safety of every child as the first and top priority in every situation, including an altercation," district spokeswoman Vickie Echols wrote in an email.

<h3>Hallsville ISD</h3>

Hallsville ISD school buses - like Longview, Pine Tree and White Oak ISD school buses - have video surveillance systems on board to help monitor students and to act as a deterrence.

Hallsville ISD also has people stationed on buses throughout the district who act as a second set of eyes and who help reinforce the district's code of conduct.

"Monitors help keep buses safer, as the primary focus of a driver is to transport students to and from school safely," Hallsville ISD Director of Operations Brian Morris wrote in an email.

The district's drivers and bus monitors are told to approach each incident with verbal commands first to reduce the chance for injury to students or drivers.

"If that does not work, they may have to get involved to break up a fight or an assault such as the one in Florida. We are training all of our drivers in conflict resolution before school starts," Morris wrote.

<h3>White Oak ISD</h3>

"Hopefully, we just don't have fights at all," said Kenny Corbell, director of auxiliary services. "We want to diffuse the situation. Our drivers are well qualified to get in there without harming themselves or other students."

Every situation is different, Corbell said, adding the district's bus drivers' character and integrity to stop and do the right thing is paramount when it comes to preventing violence on school buses.

He added he'd rather not have a driver intervene because driver safety is one of the district's priorities.

"I don't want the driver in there disrupting the fight because driver safety is important. They should pull over and call the police," Corbell said.

Moon believes her passion for making sure the children on her bus have a safe ride to and from school is a key part to her being able to manage their behavior.

"One of the mottos of when a school bus pulls up is 'it's a yellow door to a child's future.' " she said. "I'm the first thing they see in the morning on their way to school, and I'm the last thing they see before they get home. Greet them with a smile and maybe that will sustain them until the next day."

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