Milton schools, Riteway Bus respond to video of school bus altercation

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Saturday, December 10, 2011
— It took a video clip of a school bus altercation between Milton students being posted online, but Riteway Bus Service and the Milton School District are stepping up bus safety efforts, officials said Friday.

District officials and Riteway management met Friday and outlined ways the district and the bus company plan to address bus behavior and bus driver training differently.

They were responding to a parent’s complaint over a video clip filmed by a student last week and posted to YouTube that shows an elementary school girl reaching over a seat and hitting a boy repeatedly.

In the clip, students can be heard reacting to the situation. At no point does the bus driver respond to the altercation.

Tom Strickler, operations manager at the Milton Riteway bus terminal, said the company pulled the bus driver off his route Dec. 2 after a Janesville parent saw the video clip and called with concerns.

Strickler said Riteway officials were unaware of the incident until the parent called. The company is reviewing bus camera footage to get another view of the altercation.

The driver, a recent hire, remains off the road and is being retrained for bus safety. Strickler said it’s not certain the driver will return to a bus route.

“We accept full responsibility for the appearance of inactivity on our driver’s part to respond to the situation,” Strickler said. “We understand the severity of the situation.”

Riteway, which is the Milton School District’s student transportation contractor, didn’t report the incident, the video clip or the company’s discipline of the bus driver to school officials until Wednesday.

Strickler said the district office was closed for the day when Riteway learned of the situation, and Strickler was in and out of the office until Wednesday.

By that time, Todd Berg of Janesville, the same parent who called Riteway earlier, had contacted district administrators and reporters about the bus altercation. Berg has four children who ride the same bus.

Berg said he pushed the issue because he has contacted Riteway before about problems on the bus, including students running in the aisles, jumping over seats and punching each other.

Berg said he found his children viewing the video last week and was appalled to later learn the district knew nothing about it.

“There’s nothing worse than getting blindsided by your kids that they’re being put in an unsafe situation and you don’t know about it,” Berg said.

Riteway doesn’t normally inform school districts when it pulls a driver off a route, Strickler said, but the company’s drivers are supposed to report behavior problems to Riteway and school administrators.

He didn’t give reasons why the driver didn’t intervene and didn’t report the incident.

Superintendent Mike Garrow said Berg’s call to the district prompted him to set up a meeting with Riteway to discuss safety, behavior and communication.

“You want to make sure that kids are safe,” Garrow said. “That’s what you ultimately want to be their transportation experience.”

Riteway now plans to hold weekly meetings with its Milton drivers over bus behavior and to bolster training of new drivers, Strickler said.

The district plans a follow-up meeting with Riteway soon, Garrow said. Meanwhile, each school in the district is holding administrative discussions on bus behavior.

It’s not clear whether the girl in the video faces sanctions.

Berg said he wants the district to hold a student assembly this year on bus behavior. He said he would like the district to examine whether its buses are overcrowded, even though the district has said it considers the buses under capacity.

Last updated: 7:08 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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