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Teachers and bus drivers demand help with unruly kids

There's trouble where the West begins ...
Fort Worth, Texas, a beautiful city, named All-America City twice in the past three decades (click picture), has it's share of violence on the school buses. Out-of-control kids and the lack of effective support, to help keep kids safe, is a nationwide problem and putting some of America's kids, bus drivers and the public at unnecessary risk. --Safe Schools

By Michelle Melendez and Martha Deller
Star-Telegram Staff Writers
, first published by the Texas Star-Telegram, "Policy enforcement sought in handling unruly students," in Oct. 1998.
Posted by permission from the Star-Telegram ... All Rights Reserved.

Fort Worth, Texas (Star-Telegram)
Fort Worth-- Teachers and bus drivers rallied separately yesterday
(Oct., 01,1998), calling for more help with unruly students after a widely publicized, videotaped melee on a school bus carrying middle school students.

Some aggressive students severely disrupt classes for the majority, and some principals aren't helping enough, said Rubidel Peoples, president of the Fort Worth Education Association.

"Some principals say, `Handle it in your classroom,' and they won't take some of the burden," Peoples said. "That takes time away from instruction." She said teachers don't know how much force to use to restrain students or break up fights.

She said the administration sends mixed messages, such as "Use common sense," or "Never, never, never touch a student."

"Everybody should be telling all parties involved the same thing," she said, flanked by about 15 placard-waving teachers who staged a rally at association offices yesterday afternoon.

Some of the teachers' signs declared, "Parents, are you proud of your child's behavior in school?" and "Restore dignity to teachers."

Earlier in the day, bus drivers voiced support for Cynthia Fowler, a driver who was fired this week for not stopping students from assaulting others on her bus Sept. 15. The ruckus and sexually suggestive activity was caught on videotape, and four boys were charged with misdemeanors yesterday.

Bus driver Helen Willis said drivers want students to be disciplined, as well. "If they're not disciplined when they get on the bus, how can we drive the bus?" she asked. "We can't correct them. We can't touch them. We need monitors on the bus."

The drivers' impromptu rally started after transportation administrators met with them to outline procedures drivers should follow when they need help.

"The perception is that they're going to be punished if they stop and call for help," Associate Superintendent Eldon Ray said. "That's not true. If they have unruly students who are distracting the driver, they're to take certain steps and we'll support them."

Ray said drivers should call the dispatcher if they need help. Dispatchers are supposed to send a safety officer, a school police officer or Fort Worth police.

Peoples said the discipline policy and procedures in place for teachers and students aren't followed consistently. She said each school adopts a discipline method and discusses it at the beginning of each year. But the training ends there.

When a student won't follow directions, a teacher is supposed to notify the principal, who will notify the parent within 24 hours, according to the Student Code of Conduct. A parent-teacher conference may be called, or the child could be removed from the classroom. Certain behaviors trigger automatic removal and placement in an alternative school, based on a 1995 state law.

But some principals discourage teachers from sending too many students to the office, Peoples said. Even when the principal intervenes, enforcement and consequences can take a long time, Peoples said. In the meantime, she said, teachers need hands-on training on how to restrain students who are out of control.

Peoples also called for the district to publish the Student Code of Conduct in the newspaper. Each student receives a copy at the beginning of the school year. "We want the community, parents and schools to form a partnership to come up with consequences that will curtail negative student behavior," Peoples said.

She also called for the district to suspend students who accuse teachers of wrongdoing, along with the teacher, while the allegation is investigated. She said students often make false allegations to get out of trouble.

Peoples noted the recent case of Ramon Vega, an assistant principal at Arlington Heights High School who was falsely accused of improperly touching a 16-year-old girl. The girl made the accusation after she was arrested in connection with an assault on Vega.

Associate Superintendent Pat Linares said the district is looking into what actions can be taken against students who make false allegations. Currently, the district can remove false accusers through a policy allowing officials to reassign a student from his or her home school to another for the good of the student or others.

The girl who accused Vega has been assigned to an alternative school. It's not clear whether she will return to Arlington Heights. Linares said that in the past, the district has pressed charges against students who made false accusations.

Still, Peoples said discipline remains the No. 1 concern among teachers statewide. Teachers are evaluated in part by
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BACKGROUND (Compiled from Star-Telegram, Dateline and ABC's 20/20): September 15, 1998 an incident involving sexual lewdness occurred on a school bus transporting students from Forest Oak Middle School. The bus surveillance camera recorded several boys groping and forcing themselves on girls, simulating sex acts. Students were punching other students, walking in the aisles, climbing over seats and throwing other students on top of seats. Some students outside the bus threw rocks and dirt clods into the bus. Police arrested four boys and the school district fired the bus driver, Cynthia Fowler, saying she failed to take "certain actions."

UPDATE: Cynthia Fowler has filed suit against the school district to get her job back. At least one parent has filed suit against the school district for failing to provide safe transportation. Dec, 10: School administrators proposed to Fowler she accept another job that doesn't involve supervising students. Jan,12: The district is considering upgrading it's bus surveillance system with five to eight cameras and 15 to 18 decoys, manufactured by Silent Witness (see LINKS), for its 23 school buses.

Note: Parents are winning (providing unsafe transportation) suits. Two families in Flagstaff, Arizona, were awarded 30 million this past October. School employees are winning civil actions against unruly parents (slander, libel and intentional interference with a contract) and also against school districts (contract violations & unfair labor practice issues).

Safe Schools Note: Injuries on school buses have escalated over the past decade, from under 7, 000 per year in 1985 to over 13,000 injuries reported in 1996, by the National Safety Council. Driver distraction is attributed to over 30 percent of the nation's school bus accidents. (Facts, Figures & Quotes)

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