The first year we were residents in Lassen County my son was very confused and generally unhappy. He had spent his early years as witness to spousal abuse as well as victim of mental abuse at the hands of his father. I removed myself and my children from this situation with hope of teaching them a better way. I had made it my solemn vow to never again subject them to that type of violence or negative atmosphere.
My oldest son had built a pretty strong wall around himself and I found myself facing an uphill battle trying to undo years of damage. Sheltering himself from pain had made him a very difficult child. He trusted no one, couldn’t talk about his feelings, and had little respect for the world in which he inhabited. He got into trouble a lot during this transition period of his life and was noticed only for his faults as a result. It was never anything serious, he got in trouble both in school and on the bus for talking, for getting out of his seat and disrupting class. The lack of seriousness did not matter much after several events and in turn he had created a bad name for himself because of all the negative attention he was receiving.
His regular bus driver never kept it a secret that he didn’t like my son and it created animosity between them. After getting several write-ups for acting out on the bus that year my son was kicked off the bus. Due to the fact that I was disabled, and a single mom trying to make do without a drivers licence I arranged a meeting with the principle. We discussed my sons transportation situation and came to a mutual conclusion that we thought would work out for everyone. My son was to clean in and around the busses for the remainder of the school year in exchange for being allowed to get back on the bus the next day.
It was this event that started the cycle of my son being the bus drivers verbal punching bag and he came home crying on several occasions due to the way he was treated.
It’s difficult to recall exact wording on all of those events, there have been so many. I will not misconstrue the situation by getting information wrong on those occasions that I do not have a clear memory of so they will be left unsaid at this point. It is not my intention to slander this man, nor to cause him undo stress. It is my intention to bring justice for my son who is not able to stand up for himself with adults.
The past event that stands out most in my mind happened a couple years ago. My son had moved back to Arkansas, partly because of the way he was treated at school, and partly due to my own failing health. My son and I talked about this treatment and I explained to him that because he had created such a name for himself as the bad kid he would have to work very hard to prove he had changed. I told him that the only way to prove that was through action and that it would take time, he would have to continuously show that he could do the right thing.
When he moved back home with me about 8 months later he was determined to be a better kid and I explained to him that this could be his chance to start over. It was after all a new year and he hadn’t attended that school in some time. I never thought that his welcome back would would be so negative.
His first day back at school he was excited to show everyone how much he had changed but when he boarded the bus he was met with his bus drivers disapproval for returning. He hadn’t even fully boarded the bus yet when the bus driver looked at him in disgust and told him, “I’m not going to put up with you this year, sit in the front seat.”
My son came home very upset and confused, he hadn’t done anything to warrant that treatment.
My brother and I went to the school the next day and asked for a meeting with the principle and the bus driver to discuss the events. I attempted to explain that I was in no way arguing the fact that my son could be difficult, however I was upset because he was valiantly trying to do better and wasn’t even given the chance to prove himself wrong or right before the bus driver carried on his personal vendetta. Every complaint, phone call, and trip to the school when my son came home crying was answered by the same response, “I’ll talk to the driver”, yet nothing was ever done.
On another note, my son has turned his life around 110% and is working with the FNL mentoring program to better his future. He has helped to mentor other children who are going through some of the things he has and does his best to be the change he wanted to see. He has greatly improved both at home, and at school and has matured immensely over the past 2 years. I, along with his friends and other family members are so proud of how far he has come even through all the diversity he has faced.
My son was diagnosed with ADHD in his kindergarten year of school and did not fare well with medication so we took him off of it and began the challenging task of teaching him to control his own thoughts. He has had to come up with, as well as implement, techniques to stay focused and relaxed enough to maintain at school, it has been a long road.
All the pride in the world doesn’t erase the abuse he endures on the bus, where we as parents think our children are safe from predators. I don’t use the term predators lightly here, this man is preying on small children while in a position of power. These kids must obey him in order to stay out of trouble and any form of abuse in his position makes him a predator.
The latest event has caused my family so much stress and fear, as the abuse escalates it has left me wondering what is next. On August 31, 2009 my son came home from school running to the restroom without saying a word. Once he came out he sat on the couch and sighed out loud, this was something he did when he was upset. I asked him what was wrong and he gave a one word response, his response was the name of his bus driver and he fell silent again.
My sons accounts of the event were that he got on the bus and realized he needed to use the restroom, he didn’t think it would wait until he got home. At that point he sat his things in his seat and waited for a clear walkway before trying to get back off the bus. The bus was not running yet and he knew he would have had plenty of time to make it, as he was going down the steps the driver grabbed him by the back of his shirt and attempted to pull him back onto the bus. My son stumbled back 2 steps and the driver lost his grip. When my son tried to explain that he really needed to go the drivers response was to yell at him that he was not going anywhere and to get back to his seat. Seconds after this event another child stood and approached the bus driver asking to use the restroom and he said ‘go ahead sweety’.
After 4 years of brow beating and harsh comments this was the straw that broke the camels back for me. I was in shock that he was allowed to watch over children ranging in age from 4 yrs old to 18 yrs old and could not keep his cool in a minor situation that could have been handled with a simple write up. It had been 2 years since my son was in any trouble at all on the bus and I am not claiming he is an angel, but he was being singled out and abused and this had to stop.
My first action was to call the principle, his response was the same as usual, “I’ll talk to the driver”, this is what he always said.
Upon hanging up with him I put in a call to the Lassen County School district office, they referred me on to the department of transportation. By now I was growing tired of the lack of response but was not going to give up. When I called the department of transportation I got their answering machine and left a message, I did not give too many details.
My next plan of action was to press charges, if the school district would not reprimand this man I had to make sure he at least knew that he could not do these things to ANY child on that bus. When the sheriff got to my house to take the report I was shaking and crying, out of anger for the fact I could not get justice for my child. The sheriff took statements from me as well as my son and my nephew who was also on the bus at the time. When the officer finished taking statements she informed me that in order for there to be a “crime” there would have to be an injury. Since my son wasn’t injured physically they could not make an arrest.
This statement was in fact false as I later found out, the legal definition of assault is The fear of physical touch, IE…if you threaten someone or act as if you are going to hurt them and they are afraid, you have assaulted them. According to an undisclosed attorney , legally, you can assault someone with words alone and a crime HAS been committed. On another note the law sees the actual touching, hitting, etc.. of someone as battery, even if there are no visible signs of such.
Due to the fact that I felt like I got little response from the police I continued my quest for justice. My next phone call was to the local CPS (child protection service) office. They took my report and placed the bus driver on 10 day notice, which meant that they guaranteed they would investigate within 10 days. They would at least seek other children who may have seen what happened and find out the truth.
The next morning my brother and I went to the school and met with the principle, the boys were transferred over to the other bus and we were in turn insured there would be no retaliation efforts on my son. During that meeting I asked if I could view the tape from the bus and was told no, it was against the privacy act. At that point no one had told me that the video was useless because the bus was not running when the event occurred and in turn the video camera was off as well. In my opinion this is a very convenient excuse, each bus driver would in turn know that there would be no video evidence of mistreating children as long as they did not have the bus running. This too should be reviewed and changed for the safety of not only the children but the drivers as well.
At one point during this meeting with the principle I was told that; “as educators we all know we are not supposed to lay hands on a child, but we do it everyday”. He told of how he had grabbed my child by the shoulders and turned him around to get his attention, this he thought was an exception to the rule as well. These statements as well as the bus drivers actions have left me wondering just how much physical discipline is in fact condoned by the California school systems?
When I returned home I received a call back from the supervisor at the department of transportation who said he had talked with the bus driver about yesterdays events. The bus drivers story to him about what happened was of course different than that of the students who saw it and my son, it was also different than the story he gave to the principle. I figured this adult would at the very least be able to keep a straight story, and the simple fact that he was wavering should have been a sign to his supervisors that he was lying. In this case it seems everyone is protecting the driver instead of the child though, and it has left me outraged. This man, while on the phone with me, made statements that would have sent any parent reeling. He told me that in his day this is how things were handled, and that he didn’t see what the big deal was. Your child isn’t even injured, he said. He didn’t seem very happy when I told him that this was not “his time”, and that things were not going to end like that. I made sure he knew that I would not stop until my child had seen justice and he was angry. He then asked me where my proof was, I still thought I had a video. I could hear the triumph in his voice when he told me how the video only runs when the bus is on and that the event in question wasn’t even on tape, and that the witnesses were not proof, only hearsay. Before hanging up he told me that he thought it was sad that children couldn’t be spanked anymore, to this my only response was that it was even sadder that parents couldn’t send their children to school where their safety is supposed to be insured without fearing abuse. His final statement to me before hanging up was that if I didn’t like it I should home school my kids.
Due to the gross negligence of justice and action I have received on a local level I put in a call to the State Board Of Education in Sacramento. The man I spoke with there was the only person through this ordeal who actually listened and at least appeared to care. He came in on his day off to handle the situation and was very kind to me. While he couldn’t take any action on the matter he did help me with a list of things to do to get this taken care of and even called an attorney for me. If you should find yourself facing a battle with a school district I would strongly advise you look up the number to the state board of education in your state and tell them everything. I, for the first time since all of this began, got off the phone feeling validated.
Our story doesn’t even end with just one driver, it went on from there. After being switched to the other bus my son boarded the bus to find out that retaliation efforts were going to happen, even though we were promised there wouldn’t be any. As he boarded the bus the new driver began yelling at him. “You’re not going to do to me what you did to the other bus driver” she began. “If you even do one little thing wrong on my bus I will kick you off with no warning and your parents will have to find you another way to school”. To this my son just stared at her blankly, he had ridden her bus before and like her, respected her even. Even my 6 year old was upset over this, he told me how the bus driver was yelling at his bubba for no reason and he stood up for him and told her that his brother didn’t do anything.
I kept my children home from school the next day trying to sort things out. How could I send them off into the lions den knowing what was there waiting for them? Now my son would be faced with more trouble on a daily basis, all this at the risk of his mental well being and possibly his physical well being. When the boys didn’t get on the bus the new driver knew that they had told me what she said, she went straight into the principles office after her route to confess to him that she had “pulled my son aside”. The principle was waiting for my call, and had rehearsed an answer for everything.
This wasn’t retaliation, he said, it was just that she wanted to warn him to behave and let him know that she was going to hold him at a higher standard now. Hmm, “higher standard, warn him to behave”…In the Websters dictionary that falls right into retaliation and it was a direct effort at that. The way I see it she threatened my son due to her ideal that he had gotten the other driver in trouble. As I told the principle, my son didn’t do this to the other driver, it was in fact the other way around. He should not be punished because his mother took action to stand up for him when it was the only moral thing I could do about the situation.
As I have already stated I am in no way sitting here today pretending my son is an angel, or that he never does anything wrong. I know first hand that he can be difficult, and that he can be loud and I’m sure it is hard to deal with 50 loud kids on a bus every day. What I am saying is that if you can’t do that job while staying inside the law where those 50 kids are concerned then it probably isn’t the job for you. That one bus driver has the lives of all 50 of those kids balancing on how well he or she can keep their cool in many different situations and we as parents trust that they will protect our kids from harm. What do we have left when we fear for our child’s safety in the one place that is supposed to guarantee it, and if we don’t send them we are breaking the law?
It is my hope that by sharing this story I may help give courage to someone out there who needs to help their own kids right now, help someone figure out where to start or who to call. A little support goes a long ways in this world, know that you have all of it you need as you face this battle.