Bus drivers plead with school board to address student behavior, working conditions

Unruly behavior, not enough drivers, long waits at bus stops and students arriving late at school. Those are the issues bus drivers raised during the public comment period at the Moore County Board of Education meeting Monday night. 

Carolyn Penland, a bus driver for 50 years, feels like she and others have been mistreated. She asked the school board for help managing loud, unruly and disrespectful students. “To our parents and administrators, we need help with our kids on the bus. We go to the administrators and get little to no help. If we take our eyes off that road for one second to correct the child, a serious accident could happen. We need monitors on these buses.”

The comments come after a video was posted last week on social media showing students physically assaulting another student on a bus. According to a school employee that has chosen to remain anonymous, there have been two such recent fights, described as horrible, involving several students. The recent school bus assault happened on a Southern Middle School route, the other on Crain’s Creek Middle School bus.

To view the video of the assault on the Southern Middle School student, please click hereWarning, the video is graphic and violent. The students involved have been carefully blurred out, so no one is identifiable to protect the identity of all minors involved.

There is a practice of reporting such incidents, but schools are reluctant to take any disciplinary action, avoiding confronting parents and taking up administrator’s time, according to an unnamed transportation employee. Both of the recent school bus fights were captured on the district’s video monitoring system.   

A school district spokesperson declined to provide more details on the incident. 

“Bus drivers at Moore County Schools are mentally and physically exhausted,” said Samuel Kearns, a 20-year military veteran and three years with Moore County Schools. “We are near our breaking point.” Kerns pleaded with outgoing school superintendent Dr. Robert Grimesey to improve working conditions for all bus drivers.

“We lost about 19 drivers due to the pandemic and continue to lose drivers daily. Moore County Schools are in dire need of help ranging from bus drivers to supervisors, to mechanics to monitors. We have one supervisor for 80 drivers and 126 routes. If you know anything about span of control, you know this is an impossible task,” Kearns went on to say.

“Leadership is not about being in charge, it’s about taking care of those in your charge,” Beverly Davis, a bus driver for more than 10 years, told board members. “Employee retention rates rely on managers who develop genuine relationships with their people.” 

Moore County Schools Transportation Specialist Jessica Andrews told board members that school bus drivers are underpaid compared with truck driving jobs, despite having responsibility for student safety. “Do you think that UPS or Amazon has to make sure your packages are sitting in a seat safely, they are not yelling and screaming, not eating or throwing things at you, standing up, moving seats, trying to hang out the windows, fighting or bullying one another?”

School Board Vice-Chair Pam Thompson said she appreciated the comments made by bus drivers at the meeting. “It is OK for them to come and express their concerns without any kind of repercussions,” Thompson said. “So many times you hear that ‘I would like to go to the school board, but’, so I am thankful that we are setting an atmosphere that our employees are beginning to feel that they are OK and comfortable with coming to the school board to show their concerns.”

Dr. Grimesey said he was aware of some of the issues that bus drivers raised at the meeting and would follow up with the appropriate department heads.

Feature photo is a screenshot of a video of a group of students assaulting another student on a Southern Middle School bus.

To read Sandhills Sentinel’s article on the assault on the Southern Middle School bus, please click on the link below.

Sandhills_Sentinel~Written by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter John Patota.

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