The Wheels of the DOE

Feb 1, 2018 by

The City Council’s bi-partisan Education committee is demanding an inquiry into claims that despite substantiated claims of having hit kids, being drunk, and allegedly committing a lewd act involving a child, school bus drivers have not been fired. Sources claim that of the 281 occurrences between December 2015 and July of last year, only 32  drivers were thereafter barred from interaction with children.

The Department of Education’s Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) had slashed its staff of investigators from 12 to 5, each of whom now has a caseload of around 200. Squinting in the glare of bad publicity, the OPT has gone into damage-control mode by pledging their cooperation and promising corrections.

The OPT seems to have fallen on hard times since the departure years ago of its former chief, Kevin Gill, who also simultaneously headed the Office of School Food and Nutrition Services. He ran a tight ship and provided first-rate customer service. He had an autocratic temperament but his employees respected him. The apparent negligence and mismanagement of the current OPT could never have happened under him.

There must be no excuses, no shortcuts and no compromises when it comes to protecting children. The OPT had better start monitoring their contractors and their employees and stop giving cause to speculate about what may be taking place behind the scenes to discourage it. And there should be sanctions against top management where justified.

On the topic of school bus drivers, there is a completely different issue worth examining. It takes a sympathetic view of the work they do, but of course has no bearing whatsoever on the gravity of the allegations just mentioned and how they must be investigated tirelessly and aggressively.

School bus drivers are in an untenable situation because they are expected to maintain order but have no authority to control the behavior of students who are prone to bullying, vandalism, screaming and acting wildly. This can endanger safety.If they take the initiative to intervene, they lend themselves to accusations. The drivers’ referrals are often not taken seriously by parents or school authorities.

No saint ever demonstrated greater patience than is demanded of a school bus driver on an average route. They must be given some tools to help check situations that potentially get out of hand.  Crossing their fingers in the hope that nothing goes awry is not a strategy. In the interests of our children we must lessen the pressure on school bus drivers and provide them tangible support in their rough and underrated job.

Ron Isaac

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