A local family has questions about a school bus incident that the surveillance video would answer, which is why they say they’ve been asking to see the tape for the last four months.
Stacy and Mic Barringer say their 9-year-old daughter told them in April that a Belleville school bus driver slapped their son, who was 6 years old, on his arm.
At the time of the alleged incident, the school district, Belleville District 118, had a contract with the private bus company First Student, Inc., which employed the driver.
The driver was later reassigned to a different route, according to the family and the district.
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“We have yet to see what happened to our kid that day,” Stacy Barringer said.
District 118 declined to release the surveillance video to the family because of privacy concerns for other students on the bus that day and because the Illinois School Student Records Act doesn’t require the district to release it, Superintendent Matt Klosterman said.
Surveillance video would become part of a student record if a child involved in a recorded incident was disciplined, according to Klosterman. At that point, the child and his or her parents would be given an opportunity to watch the video in order to question the discipline.
The News-Democrat also asked the district for the video through a Freedom of Information Act request. District 118 had not responded as of Tuesday.
Stacy Barringer said attorney Thomas Magee recently told the family they could see the video. Magee represents First Student.
Kate Watkins, an associate at the law firm where Magee works, said in an email to the BND that First Student has a policy of not commenting on matters of active or threatened litigation. Magee couldn’t be reached directly for comment.
The Barringers have hired a lawyer to help them get the video.
“If they don’t show us by a certain date, then we will just file a lawsuit. And we’ll see the video either way,” Stacy Barringer said. “But the reason we want to see the video is so we can make a decision on which route we should take from this point.”
We have yet to see what happened to our kid that day.
Stacy Barringer on alleged incident with First Student, Inc. driver
She said she wanted to see the driver fired as a result of the incident. “We just don’t want (the driver) to ever do this to another kid,” Stacy Barringer said.
Klosterman said under its old contract with First Student, District 118 could work with the company to move a driver to a different route, but District 118 couldn’t take disciplinary action against drivers because they weren’t district employees.
First Student couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. According to its website, the company screens its drivers through background checks and drug and alcohol testing.
The website states that First Student drivers also receive targeted training that could include driving strategies or recognizing and preventing bullying and sexual harassment on the bus, for example. The training they receive depends on drivers’ experience, the needs of the passengers and issues or risk factors specific to their driving locations, according to the website.
Today, Belleville District 118 has a new busing contract with Belleville District 201, which now employs the bus drivers and sets the policy for managing students on the buses.
District 201 started running bus services this school year for the Belleville high schools, as well as the elementary schools in District 201’s boundaries: Belleville 118, High Mount 116, Wolf Branch 113, Pontiac 105, Belle Valley 119, Grant 110 and Whiteside 115. These districts had all previously contracted with First Student. The new partnership — Belleville Schools Transportation Service — started this school year as an effort to save money.
Josh Lane, District 201 coordinator of administrative services, said district officials thought they could do things more efficiently, through consolidating bus routes, for example. He was among the officials studying the effects of offering transportation in-house before the District 201 school board OK’d it in April.
“We had a wonderful partnership with First Student for a very long time with District 201,” he said.
The district made an effort to hire many former First Student drivers when it took over transportation services. Lane didn’t know whether the driver about whom the Barringers complained has been hired by District 201. “I don’t know who that bus driver is, honestly,” he said.
Lane noted that each of the drivers who have been hired have completed a background check.
“We want to have people who are vetted, who are qualified, so everybody’s thoroughly background checked, whether they came from First Student or not,” he said.
The district, very much like the state and the recommendations that you see in education everywhere, has a hands-off policy whenever possible.
Josh Lane on Belleville Schools Transportation Service’s policy for bus drivers
Drivers are also required to complete an eight-hour, state-run training to get a bus permit, according to Lane. Then, Lane said drivers go through a minimum of 43 hours of training that covers skills on the bus and on the road. They must also obtain a license by passing a written test and driving test.
After they’re hired, drivers are expected to follow District 201’s policy.
“Our policy is hands-off,” Lane said. “The district, very much like the state and the recommendations that you see in education everywhere, has a hands-off policy whenever possible. The one exception to that would be if our driver feels that the student, another student or themselves are in any type of danger.
“Then, they have to step in and keep everyone safe, and it’s simply about safety at that point.”
Mic Barringer described slapping or even spanking children as “extreme” when it comes to discipline.
“It’s hard to deal with kids, especially rowdy kids. And apparently that bus was pretty rowdy, but you’ve got to take into consideration, when you take this certain job, those are the issues you gotta deal with,” he said.
Lane said District 201 is interested in identifying specific areas to improve its training for drivers, through targeted approaches for dealing with grade school students or high school students, for example.
“It’s great to have a state-approved program, but what can we do above that?” Lane said.
If parents, schools or drivers have a complaint or concern in the future, Lane said District 201 will “investigate, try to do all the research, gather all the information we could, find out as many details as we can, and then take that information and make the best decision that’s in the interest of safety for our students, safety for our driver and safety for anybody else who might be on that bus.”