Just a few months after an H.T. Wiley Intermediate student was kicked off a school bus in June for yelling obscenities at the driver, the Watertown City School District and Freeman Bus Corp. are revising their procedures for reporting disciplinary problems in order to make guidelines clearer for bus drivers.
Officials from both entities met in August to discuss retraining drivers to deal with severe situations and to create a better communication system between drivers and building principals.
Jason Ring, the school districts assistant superintendent for personnel and transportation director, said the district has conversations with bus drivers every year. During a special meeting in May, some principals had said there was not enough communication between administrators and bus drivers.
As before, the type of punishment still will depend on the severity of the situation, and there still will be two security cameras on every bus.
According to district Superintendent Terry N. Fralick, students are given one or two warnings before receiving a referral for a minor infraction. However, in a bullying situation such as the one in June, which was filmed and put on YouTube, the student will be barred from riding the bus as soon as a report is filed with a principal.
Most of the changes are in paperwork. The bus conduct forms have an area for drivers to mark off how they intervened in a situation and whether they called a parent, reassigned seats or gave a warning. There also is room for additional details about each incident.
Its easier for administrators and drivers to be on the same page, district typist Betty J. Caswell said.
Mr. Fralick laughed when Ms. Caswell referred to herself as a typist. He introduced her as the backbone of the transportation department.
In addition to the goal of principals being more informed, bus drivers were retrained so they would know how to deal with students who jeopardize the safety of others, whether the riders are fighting or distracting the driver with cruel words. Each morning this week, all bus drivers will spend five minutes going over the code of conduct and developing a rapport with their riders.
I think (the bus drivers) appreciate that extra time, Mr. Ring said. I think its been pretty well received and appreciated.
Although approximately 993 referrals were written last school year, Mr. Fralick said the June bullying incident was one of the worst he has seen in about 25 years in education and said he believes it was an isolated incident. When looking at the video on YouTube, he said, he did not see any other students supporting the boy taunting the bus driver.
This is why its important to meet with Freeman and the bus drivers, Mr. Fralick said. We are just trying to be proactive with Freeman and support them.