A Spokane school bus driver is getting extra training, and several students will be disciplined after a ride home turned to chaos.
A monitor will also ride the bus, which was parked for more than an hour Monday while the driver struggled to get rowdy kids under control, said Joe Madsen, safety director for Spokane School District 81.
Driver Jeff Belknap has been assigned another route to allow the kids who ride the bus to “calm down,” Madsen said.
“We’re not aware the driver did anything worthy of discipline at this point,” Madsen said.
Parents complained because their children were frightened and late to arrive home. Kids also said another Laidlaw Transit worker told a crying girl to shut up and raised his hand as if to strike her. Madsen said the girl was mistaken.
Drivers are instructed to pull over and stop when kids get out of control, Madsen said. If they can’t calm the students, drivers are supposed to call for help.
Problems began Monday before the bus left Logan Elementary School in north Spokane.
The bus usually arrives later than other buses because it runs another route just before picking up the 29 Logan students, who range from kindergartners to sixth-graders, Madsen said.
This time, roadwork delayed the bus even more, and by the time it arrived, kids had been waiting for about 20 minutes, he said.
Students began acting up as soon as they boarded the bus, swearing at each other and stepping from one seat to another and hanging out windows, Madsen said.
Students said they got in trouble for singing “It’s a Grand Old Flag.” Madsen said their version of the song included profanity.
The bus remained parked at the school for 10 minutes while Belknap tried to get the kids under control, Madsen said.
“We certainly don’t want to move a bus while someone’s hanging out a window,” Madsen said. “I’d much rather have my child late for dinner than in the hospital.”
Belknap then called for help. Laidlaw, the bus company, sent another bus, which picked up 15 of the students.
The buses finally left the school at 3:40 p.m., 40 minutes after school let out. But Belknap stopped his bus again two minutes later, when the remaining students became unruly again, Madsen said.
He called for more help, and a Laidlaw driver who specializes in discipline training arrived to help him quiet the kids. After students calmed down again, the bus continued on but stopped within a minute because of more trouble, this time at Illinois and Morton.
By then, parents had tracked down the bus, worried because their children hadn’t arrived home. One woman called police when she wasn’t allowed to take her daughter off the bus.
“This is not Russia, for God’s sake,” said Cheryl Bentley, who eventually barged onto the bus to get her daughter, Helana.
Another student saw his mother outside the bus and jumped from the emergency exit.
“When you have parents making demands and are upset … that complicated matters severely at that time,” Madsen said Wednesday.
Drivers are required to drop off students only at bus stops, he said. Even if parents had identification, the driver couldn’t be certain they were leaving children with the parents who had custody, Madsen said.
Some kids were allowed to leave with their parents after Laidlaw managers, school officials and police arrived.
The bus finally resumed its route and dropped off the last child at 4:45 p.m., Madsen said.
Several students will receive citations, said Terren Roloff, the district’s spokeswoman. The nature of the discipline hasn’t been decided, but some kids could be suspended from the bus for the rest of the school year.
Belknap, who has been driving buses since January, will get extra training in dealing with problem kids, Madsen said.
Belknap could not be reached for comment.
“We’ll look real strongly at what the driver did or did not do,” Madsen said. “We’ll probably look at tone or inflection.”
Some parents, meanwhile, are talking about forming a support group for their children, who they say were terrified by the delay.
“I trust my child to these people,” Kimberly Nicosia said. “Now I’m afraid to let her ride the bus.”