tampabay.com

Students say bus driver ignored sexual behavior

The driver disputes some of the accusations.

By EDDY RAMIREZ
Published March 9, 2007


CRYSTAL RIVER - For the high school students on Bus 4895, the ride home was unlike any episode of the educational show The Magic School Bus.

It was more like Girls Gone Wild - except none of it was caught on tape, school officials said.

On Jan. 29, a 10th-grader flashed her breasts at the bus driver and then at other passengers to get back a bottle of Gatorade that the driver had confiscated.

Weeks earlier, the same girl performed oral sex on a teenage boy while other students on the bus watched.

At least six students, including the 10th-grade girl, said the bus driver did little to stop them. And he never reported the incidents to his supervisors.

Now the driver, Don Allender, might lose his job. Superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel has recommended that the School Board fire him.

Last week, Allender challenged his firing at a board meeting. The board could vote formally on his firing next week.

It was not clear Thursday whether any students were disciplined.

In a statement to school district investigators, Allender, 64, disputed portions of the students' accounts. But he expressed regret for not reporting the wrongdoing to school officials.

"What could they have done about it?" the driver asked when asked why he didn't report the sexual behavior.

The story of what happened on Bus 4895 is detailed in an internal investigation that became a public record this week. District officials launched the probe after three students reported seeing the girl expose herself on Jan. 29.

That day, students boarded the bus outside Crystal River High School and watched as the driver confiscated a bottle of Gatorade from a male ninth-grader.

That boy's friend, a female student in the 10th grade, told the driver that she would show him her chest if he gave back the drink. According to students' accounts to investigators, the driver smiled and pointed to the bus security camera.

After the bus started moving, the girl told the boy to grab a hooded sweatshirt and cover her face. By that point, "kids were making a big fuss" and "most of the guys on the bus had moved to the front," according to one student's account.

The female student pulled up her shirt and bra, students told investigators.

"Then, I flashed another student, and I heard people saying (the driver) was laughing," the girl later wrote in a statement.

Several students found the scene revolting and complained about the driver's response.

"I was shocked and I turned away," one student said. That student told the investigator that "during the flashing, Mr. Don was not paying attention to the road."

Another student said: "I was never happier to be home" after getting off the bus .

The next day, students said, the female student was discussing her virginity with other girls on the bus when the driver told her, "there ain't a virgin thing about you."

A senior, who is 18, told an investigator that the bus "had gotten so out of hand" that students, not the driver, "seemed to rule the bus."

When district officials confronted Allender last month, he said he didn't report the flashing because he "just forgot about it." He said he tried to keep the girl from flashing him and the other students, but she would not listen.

"You know this is not right and you will get me in trouble," he recalled saying. "You students doing this could get me fired."

When asked why he didn't write up any students, he said, "they're just kids."

He said the students told him that their parents curse "just as much" as them and that's why he never reported any of the vulgar language on the bus.

He denied making inappropriate comments to students.

Asked why he didn't immediately report complaints that students had oral sex on the bus at least twice, Allender said he didn't believe the girl or the other students. Instead, he said, he moved her to the front of the bus.

Allender could not be reached for comment Thursday.

In his response to the district's findings, the bus driver forcefully defended himself.

"I used to really enjoy driving the kids," Allender, who has been a driver for eight years, wrote in response to the charges. "But now I no longer have the heart to continue in a vocation wherein management will hang an honest person over a collection of students' lies!"

District officials said none of the alleged incidents were caught on tape because the camera on the bus was not working.