Monday, March 26, 2007

School Bus Scandal: A Call for Vigilance

A recent New York Daily News investigative report series, using information obtained through the Freedom of Information Law, revealed distressing accounts of physical, emotional and sexual abuse on school buses in New York City.

While this appalling scandal involves the school bus program serving 142,000 New York City public and private school students, the lesson must be clear: school districts across the nation must be ever-vigilant to ensure the safety of their students on school buses to and from school.

Every school district across America should act immediately to review all school bus security and safety practices, procedures and policies. School bus drivers and monitors are integral to the development of a culture of school safety and should undergo rigorous background and Department of Motor Vehicle checks, as well as be required to obtain a comprehensive school bus safety and security certification.

In my opinion, there is another issue which demands a sense of urgency. The essence of the behavior of American youth must be openly and honestly examined from the community at large in school districts throughout the nation. This poor behavior has everything to do with the lack of character development in our nation's schools and a lack of example from all facets of society. The heart of America needs to be committed to building our future through a dedication to the proper education and development of our youth.

[Reprinted from The New York Daily News –]

Shame of [New York] city's school buses

News investigation reveals shocking accounts
of crime, beatings and poor oversight

The Daily News Key Findings, March 19, 2007

  • Nineteen complaints of students molesting other students on school buses in the presence of drivers and/or monitors. Fourteen cases are the subjects of pending lawsuits; two others are substantiated complaints from the Department of Education; two were settled lawsuits, and one family has notified the city it intends to sue.
  • Two additional sexual abuse cases involving predatory drivers; a bus monitor figures in a third. Lawsuit against one driver and his employer was settled in 2004 for $1 million; a settlement in the other bus driver case has been sealed. The family of a 19-year-old woman with Down syndrome has notified the city it intends to sue for a 2006 incident involving a bus monitor.
  • Fourteen substantiated complaints where students were beaten or physically abused by drivers or bus monitors in 2006; at least eight more in 2005.
  • Seven additional allegations of assaults and beatings by drivers or monitors on schoolchildren - four settled lawsuits, two pending and one legal notice of an intent to sue.
  • The Department of Education provided few substantiated cases of student-on-student physical violence, but the Daily News found 10 notices of intent to sue filed against the city for such incidents in 2006, and 15 more pending lawsuits or notices in the prior five years. The department said all of the incidents described in the 10 notices "were either unsubstantiated, unfounded or not in violation of rules and regulations."
  • Five additional incidents where families have notified the city they intend to sue, including the student with Down syndrome. The Department of Education also has deemed these claims to be unsubstantiated, unfounded or not in violation of rules and regulations.
  • At least 78 bus drivers and monitors arrested just in 2006, mostly on charges unrelated to their jobs, including three for rape and seven for drunken driving. One driver was charged with shoplifting during a school field trip.
  • Last year alone, at least 35 children - many younger than 6 - dropped off at or near their homes unattended. One wandering special-needs child ended up being struck by a car and seriously injured.
  • Seven instances - including four last year and one so far this year - where children between 5 and 9 were dropped off alone far from their homes, sometimes in dangerous neighborhoods.
  • Eleven incidents where students - one only a 3-year-old - were left on their school buses unattended for hours, including two cases where the driver or monitor tried to bribe the victims with food in return for not telling anyone about the incident. Eight of the incidents occurred last year.
Sources: Department of Education and its Office of Pupil Transportation, civil lawsuits, notices of intent to sue, NYPD, criminal prosecution files, Special Commissioner for Investigation for the New York City School District, Daily News interviews with victims and family members.
New York Daily News
School Bus Report Series
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