In December 2010, a 46-year-old male bus driver in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania threatened a 9-year-old child with autism. The incident was recorded on surveillance video. He said to the child, “If you don’t shut your beehive mouth up, I’m going to kill you with this crowbar.” The West Mifflin school district superintendent, Dr. Sardon, called the situation “appalling.” Are you kidding me? How did this guy fool people into hiring him? I myself, find it “appalling” that children were exposed to this bus driver on a daily basis. Charges are pending against the driver, who no longer drives for the West Mifflin school district.
That same month in Volusia County, Florida, a 72-year-old school bus aide was arrested for verbally and physically abusing a 14-year-old teenager with autism. Police released a report which described the incident in detail. In the report, police reference the bus surveillance video in saying that the aide was giving directions to the bus driver when the 14-year-old started biting himself. Apparently, the aide told him to “stop it” and grabbed his wrist. Later, the report says that three children exited the bus and the 14-year-old tried to touch one of them. The aide reportedly grabbed the boy by his wrists, bending them and saying, “Want me to break them on ya?” The report says the boy was confused and later became agitated and kicked the seat in front of him; the aide slapped his legs and continued to be rough with him. The bus aide was arrested and later released on bond. According to the police report, she said she is “only human” and was frustrated with the boy’s behavior.
In February 2011, deputy police officer Mark Perrin was fired after disturbing allegations came to light after he threw a 17-year-old girl with special needs face down on to a school bus seat and threatened to shock her with a Taser gun. This was all caught on surveillance video. Apparently, the police were responding to a call from a teacher’s aide who requested assistance after the special-needs student threw a plastic bottle and was being physically abusive. In the surveillance video footage, the police officer grabs the teenager by her sweatshirt and throws her across the aisle onto another seat. As she is face down, he then climbs on her back to restrain her. View the footage here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03UUOYtP0Rk&feature=player_embedded
I have to call into question what type of information (if any) the officer had before he charged onto the bus and started roughing up the teen with special needs. At this time, it’s unclear whether or not the bus aide or driver told the police that the girl had special needs, and it’s also unclear whether this police officer had any previous training or experience in dealing with teens with special needs. I would hope so. After all, I am sure that dealing with criminals on the streets and dealing with special needs teenagers are two very different things that require two very different approaches.
In January 2009, a good Samaritan rescued a 4-year-old disabled boy in Bay Ridge, New York who was left on the bus for hours. Apparently the bus matron and the bus driver had a communication breakdown as to whether all the children had left the bus.
These incidents, although taken out of context, have a common theme: the neglect and abuse of kids with special needs. It brings me to question the judgment of those who hire, train, and supervise school bus drivers and school bus aides.
Children come into contact with school bus drivers every day, sometimes more than twice a day, depending upon their situation. In the above-mentioned cases, we’ve seen carelessness, poor judgment and some blatantly inappropriate behaviors on behalf of the adults who were in charge. Here are some other questions to ask—not as a way to justify any of these behaviors, but more as a way to address some important, underlying issues:
- Is it all just a matter of better, more updated training? Are the bus drivers and aides so poorly trained that they believe this type of behavior is appropriate, and that their actions are justified?
- What, if any, training do they have in dealing with kids that have special needs?
- Are they suffering from job burnout?
- Are they overworked and overwhelmed?
- Have past experiences in dealing with special needs kids taught them that there are no consequences for their actions?
- Are they overreacting based on fear or their own past experiences with special needs kids who act out?
- Do they have a complete lack of empathy for special needs kids?
- Are they openly discriminating against these kids?
What does everyone think? Have you had a negative experience with a bus driver or a bus aide? If so, what is your take on this?