In response to reports of bad behavior on Webster Parish school buses, some parents saw letters from the Superintendent of Schools, Steve Dozier last week. Dozier has also taken steps to help ensure incidents like one that happened several weeks ago do not happen again.
"We received various complaints about kids' behavior and that certainly alerted us to the situation," Dozier said. "I thought it was something we needed to get under control."
Dozier has spoken with students who ride the buses that reportedly have had issues with student behavior.
"I went to Minden High, Richardson, Phillips and Webster Junior School and explained to them what my expectations were for their behavior on the bus," he said. " They know that if they cannot do those things, they cannot ride the bus."
An incident, which happened weeks ago, where a fourth grade Minden student's hair was cut while on bus 49, has also been a source of concern for Dozier.
"When addressing this issue we have to be mindful of privacy and not give too much information regarding the students and the specific punishment," he said. "But we can say the child has been disciplined and has been removed from the bus and will not be back on that particular bus for at least the semester. Additional discipline was given, but I cannot comment on it for privacy reasons."
The issue has been of specific concern for Dozier because of bullying allegations.
"We have not identified that as a bullying issue, because a bully situation is typically going to be where the kid has bullied and harassed, and in this situation we didn't find that," Dozier said. "What we found was a single incident, where the kid himself has still not admitted to cutting the hair, and no one can verify another instance of harassment.
"The other students on the bus, say they did not see anyone cut the hair, the boy sitting with the (alleged perpetrator) said he saw him reach over, but never actually saw him cut the hair," he continued.
Dozier said they disciplined the alleged perpetrator based on circumstantial evidence.
"We have not been able to prove for certain that he was the one who cut her hair and can't find any evidence of bullying," he said. "He should not have done it, and if I was the parent of a child whose hair was cut, I promise you I would be upset. But we handled the situation as our policy outlines."
Dozier also said if any picking or harassing happened before or after this incident, he was unaware of it because the principal, teachers and other students have not observed it or been notified about it.
"If it was a confirmed case of bullying and ongoing harassment, we would look at further action and possibly counseling," Dozier said. "We even went that very day and asked the teacher and the students if they have witnessed this kid bully the girl or pick on her. Then when the article was in the paper, we went back and asked again if they have seen or heard anything. We even asked the girl whose hair was cut and she didn't say anything.
"Anytime we hear of bullying, we are going to check," he continued. "In this situation, the information we are getting does not match the allegations."
Dozier hopes action taken to place cameras on buses 49 and 36 will help prevent future situations and allow for review when bad behavior is reported.
"Much of the problem is the driver cannot see everything that is going on while driving the route," he said. "The drivers should keep their eyes focused on the road and on keeping the bus safe. Occasionally, they have an opportunity to look into the mirror when they are stopped, but when they are driving, they need to be doing that – driving."
Dozier said cameras were taken from two other buses and installed on the two buses with reports of bad behavior.
"Now both of those buses have cameras, and we can look in the back and at the students and recognize which students are using extreme profanity and yelling out or not staying in their seats," he said. "We know we cannot stop all the cursing and things, but it helps us identify students who are yelling out and causing problems.
"We are trying to make it better," Dozier continued. "Hopefully with the cameras, my talk with students and the letters sent home, we will see an improvement from students on those buses and support from parents."
The following is from the letter sent home to parents of riders on buses 49 and 36:
"It has been brought to my attention that many students on this bus are not following the bus safety and proper riding rules of the transportation office. Students are expected to follow certain behaviors in order to ride Webster Parish School buses. Behaviors expected include the following:
"Sit in seat with legs forward, Keep hands to self, No yelling on the bus (talking is okay and should be limited to students in the same seat, students in the seat in front, and seat behind), No cursing on the bus, No standing unless departing bus.
"The above guidelines are put in place for student and driver safety. We need all bus riders to follow these simple rules in order to make the bus ride a safe and secure one. Failure to abide by these rules can/will result in the privilege of riding the bus to school being removed. Route 36/49 is equipped with cameras and the videos of these cameras will be reviewed daily to see if misbehaviors are occurring. Please talk with your child about their individual behavior on the school bus. We want each child to be able to ride each day. We cannot allow students to be disruptive on the bus and endanger the safety of all. We appreciate your help in the important matter."