The Olympia School District has placed one of its bus drivers on leave after a developmentally disabled 14-year-old middle-school student and her mother complained that he was verbally abusing her while driving her to school.
The Washington Middle School student’s mother, Louanne Bay, said that her daughter has been complaining about verbal abuse by the bus driver for more than a year.
However, the teen’s complaints were not acted on by the district until recently, when school officials viewed footage from a school-bus surveillance camera depicting the alleged verbal abuse by the driver, Bay said.
Bay said that after Olympia School District officials showed her the video footage of the alleged verbal abuse last week, she was so disturbed by what she saw that she was in tears. The video footage was dated last Thursday, and Bay said school officials showed her the video later that day.
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The bus driver is seen on the video encouraging other special-needs students on the bus to call Bay’s daughter names, Bay said.
“You can clearly hear the driver calling my daughter names, encouraging other children to bully her,” Bay said. “All of the children on the bus are special needs with a variety of disabilities, which makes it even worse.”
Bay said her daughter was recently frightened by a bee on the bus, and on the video footage she watched last week, the driver told Bay’s daughter: “I am going to bring a beehive on the bus,” with the effect of frightening the 14-year-old.
Bay said that because of her daughter’s cognitive delays, she is more vulnerable than other children of the same age. Bay added that her daughter has an assigned seat at the back of the bus, where the heaters are located. Bay said her daughter has told her that when she has asked the driver to turn the heat down, he instead turns the heat up, purposely making her uncomfortable, Bay said.
“They’re going to have to learn how to train their drivers to behave with kids,” Bay said Monday.
Bay said her daughter has additionally complained that the driver has threatened to hit her on the bus, although the driver made no such statements on the video footage she watched.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Bay said.
School-district spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet emailed a statement to The Olympian on Monday.
“The district is treating this matter very seriously,” Japhet wrote. “We learned about the inappropriate verbal exchanges last week and immediately put the driver on leave. The district is now conducting an investigation. In the meantime, staff is committed to working with this family to ensure the student feels safe and supported on her way to school, at school and on the way home from school.”
Bay said the school district has refused to release to her a copy of the videotape, or a transcript of the driver’s statements on the video footage. Bay said she has been in contact with an attorney.
The Olympia School District’s bus drivers have come under increased scrutiny since a former Olympia school-bus driver, Gary Shafer, was convicted in 2011 of molesting three kindergarten-age children while they rode with him on district buses.
Several of the victims’ families filed lawsuits after Shafer’s behavior came to light. In 2012, a jury awarded one of those families $1.4 million after finding that the school district failed to properly supervise Shafer. In 2013, the district’s insurer agreed to pay another of Shafer’s victims $750,000 to settle a lawsuit.