EXCLUSIVE | School Bus incidents raise concerns in Indian River School District
School bus transportation issues in the Indian River School District are being raised by concerned parents after a bus driver was spotted driving erratically and not initiating its safety lights or stop sign, and a 5-year-old kindergarten student was placed on the wrong bus home on her first day of school.
Chrissy Norris, of Millsboro, accompanied her godchild to the bus stop in Rehoboth Shores for her first day of school on Tuesday.
As they waited for the bus, Norris noticed another school bus picking up high school students that did not have its flashing lights or stop arm extended.
After she confronted the driver, she claims he turned his safety lights on but when it was time to leave he drove off erratically, nearly hitting her and her goddaughter.
“I had witnessed some reckless driving, the safety equipment was not engaged, and I had asked him politely to turn the safety equipment on and he had then engaged it,” Norris explained. “He then recklessly drove through the grass. I had to move myself and my goddaughter out of the way from being hit by the bus.”
The next day, Norris claims she witnessed the same driver yet again not utilizing the safety equipment, which concerned her due to the way drivers speed up and down Rehoboth Shores Road.
“He sat in the middle of the roadway, for a good twenty to twenty-five minutes, without anything on at all letting several high school students on the bus.” Norris said she was “constantly yelling to him, staying out of his way after what happened yesterday, telling him ‘you need your lights on, you need the arm out, you need something on,’ and he proceeds to tell me that he doesn’t need to put the safety lights on, that they do not need to be illuminated, because he’s on private property.”
While that may be true for certain areas, such as a school zone perhaps, Norris feels the way drivers speed up and down the road, the safety equipment needs to be activated.
“I can understand in certain circumstances on private property, like a school zone or something like that the bus does not need to illuminated,” Norris said. “But in this situation, with that many students and knowing the speeds that the traffic goes up and down the road of Rehoboth Shores, the safety lights need to be illuminated.”
Norris said she reached out to the bus company who took the situation very seriously and said they would speak to the driver. Since then, every morning the school bus driver has initiated the safety equipment.
Michael Smith, of Millsboro, expressed concerns over the way a local bus driver spoke to his 5-year-old granddaughter who was placed on the wrong bus home on Tuesday.
“I had asked the school ‘please do me a favor and make sure she gets on the right bus.’ When they come outside they just see a line of buses, they don’t know which bus to get on,” Smith said. “The staff said, ‘don’t worry, we’ve got it all taken care of, she’ll get on the right bus.’ Well, she didn’t.”
Smith said the staff at East Millsboro Elementary School placed his granddaughter, Adriana, on the wrong bus home.
“They put her on the wrong bus,” Smith said. “My granddaughter, Adriana, fell asleep. Well, they’re riding around for over an hour with her not even realizing she’s on the bus. They get to the last stop and she woke up she said ‘all I seen was trees.’” She didn’t know where she was.
Also concerning, was the way the bus driver spoke to students the next morning, according to Smith, who said he screamed “ come on, let’s go, get on the bus.”
“Here comes the bus, he opens the door, and immediately starts yelling, ‘come on, let’s go, get on the bus, and I want you to sit in the same seats you sat in yesterday,’” Smith recalled. “It’s her first year, she’s in kindergarten, she’s five years old, do you really think they’re going to remember exactly where they’re sitting yesterday? All those seats on a bus look the same to a five year old.”
Smith is concerned the problem could get worse later on down the road considering the driver spoke the way he did on students’ second day of school.
“Could you imagine three months or three weeks into the school year how this is going to be? If he’s this arrogant and mean, acting like a drill sergeant on the second day,” Smith said. “I’d hate to see the outcome of this with his attitude and mentality and the fact that she was on a bus yesterday for over an hour not even knowing that she was on the wrong bus.”
Adriana was crying, pleading for her grandpa to take her to school, fearful of riding the bus, according to Smith.
“She was crying this morning, she didn’t want to get on the bus,” Smith said. “Standing there, facing me with her arms out, she wanted me to take her, she didn’t want to get on that bus.”
WGMD’s Rob Petree reached out to the Indian River School District who spoke to the bus contracting company who was made aware of the issues and is investigating.
In regards to the child being left on the bus, district officials said it due to a “discrepancy in the bus lists provided to teachers.”
“The girl being placed on the wrong bus at East Millsboro on Tuesday afternoon resulted from a discrepancy in the bus lists provided to teachers,” district officials stated. “Fortunately, many of the school’s teachers volunteer to ride buses in the afternoon during the first week of school to make sure students arrive at their destinations safely.”
The situation was handled appropriately, according to the district, who said “when the teacher and bus driver discovered the girl was on the wrong bus, they returned to the school and the administration immediately contacted the parent/guardian.”
Staff was given verbal permission by the family to transport the child to her after-school daycare facility. The problems with the bus lists have been corrected and the student will be placed on the correct bus every day thereafter, the district emphasized.
“East Millsboro staff did a tremendous job identifying the problem and addressing it in a timely manner,” district officials said. “The first week of school can be rather hectic and EMES teachers should be commended for volunteering their time to ride buses and make sure students arrive home safely.”
Indian River started its school year with a bus driver shortage, an ongoing problem that has faced many school districts across the state.
WGMD News reached out to the bus service company, Dutton Busing, whose owner issued the following response:
“I have talked with driver of bus and explained to him that even though he is on private propertyin a developement that we still want safety lights on while kids are loading and unloading,” explained Gerald Dutton, president of Dutton Busing. “State law says otherwise but safety is a bigger concern in this circumstance. The other issues with this stop are being rectified for safer operation. I have the school district looking into this to see what can be done to alleviate the problems we are encountering.”