Parent concerned by disciplinary standards on county school buses

By Megan R. Harrell
STAR STAFF
mharrell@starhq.com

   A local parent has voiced concern over what she considers to be lax disciplinary standards on her children's county school bus. The parent would like to see more stringent rules enforced by the bus driver and school system.
   All of Rhanee Lane's three children are transported to school on the same bus daily. She became alarmed when her daughters came home telling her about what they observed on the bus. The children described fights, unruly behavior, and informed their mother they were standing while the bus was in motion.
   One of Lane's most immediate concerns is for her four-year-old who rides with much older students. Lane does not understand why students of all ages are transported together.
   "They need to have a separate bus for elementary kids. There is no reason why our elementary kids are on a bus with kids that are able to drive," Lane said. "We have separate schools for a reason. They just do not mix."
   The bus that transports Lane's children is scheduled to make a run at 6:30 a.m., and another at 7:00 a.m., but she does not believe the bus is making both trips. Lane stated the bus is full when it reaches her residence.
   "We live near Southside, and by the time the bus has hit every stop, then comes back to get our kids it is too full for anybody to sit down," Lane said. "I want there to be seating for all the kids. Somebody has to do something before our kids get hurt."
   Lane would like to see a no tolerance policy instituted on the county school buses. She believes the bus driver should pull over when fights break out, and any child involved in a fight should be suspended from the bus.
   Lane would also like for monitors to be placed on all buses. She is looking to her children's school, and county officials for action. "I want to know how I am guaranteed they are keeping kids safe on the buses," Lane said.
   Jerry Nave, Carter County Transportation Supervisor, stated that the behavior problems described by Lane are isolated incidences at certain locations in the county. He noted the county has a system of reporting any misconduct on the buses, and that it must comply with state and federal guidelines.
   Nave stated all of the county bus drivers are required to have certified driver's licenses and school bus endorsements. The drivers are also required to attend state sponsored safety schools annually.
   Schoolteachers, principals, and aides have served as monitors on county school buses in the past. Nave said an aide was placed on the Lane children's bus last year for about a month, and the behavior problem got better during that period.
   "If there is a discipline problem we put aides on the buses," Nave said. "We keep a camera on that particular bus, and we do pretty much what we can do."
   There are not cameras on all of the school buses in the county, but Nave moves them to where they are needed in the event of behavior problems. He stated that it is impossible to place cameras, costing close to $1,000 a piece, on all of the county's 54 buses.
   There is no way around transporting elementary students on the same buses as high school students, according to Nave. He said it boils down to economics.
   The state provides the all of the funding for county school buses. It looks at the number of students in the county, along with the amount of mileage to determine how much the school system will receive to purchase buses.
   The county has a bus conduct report form that is used to document unruly behavior. It is the driver's responsibility to fill out the report and turn it over to the appropriate principal for disciplinary action.
   Nave stated that it is the principal's duty, not the bus driver's, to enforce the rules outlined on the conduct report. "It is the driver's responsibility to report all discipline to the principal and they handle it," Nave said. "It is impossible for the driver to break up fights, and by the time he pulls over the fight is over."
   The county bus conduct report outlines five basic rules for students when riding the bus. It states that students are to follow the driver's instructions, and are to remain seated and to keep hands to themselves.
   The rules also state that students can be disciplined for cursing, and eating or drinking on the bus. The report allows drivers to indicate what actions they took. The principal then outlines the discipline that was enforced.
   Nave stated that the county has taken steps to ensure student safety on buses. Three years ago the county installed two-way radios on all buses that allow constant communication with the bus garage.
   There has not been a county student injured as the result of a school bus accident in nearly 30 years.