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District must do more to curb bad behavior

Published March 22, 2007


By resigning his job as a school bus driver, Don Allender has spared himself further embarrassment for his role in a number of instances of outrageous behavior by the students under his care.

For the school district and the community, however, the case should not end here. The situations as described in an internal investigation should raise red flags for officials and the public over what passes for acceptable conduct by children and at least one bus driver.

Allender, 64, resigned after details of a Jan. 29 incident surfaced recently. The internal investigation reported that a 10th-grade girl flashed her breasts at Allender to try to win back a bottle of Gatorade the driver had confiscated from a fellow student. Much more disturbing, the investigation found that weeks before, the same girl had performed oral sex on a boy while other students on the bus watched.

As out-of-bounds as this behavior is, the biggest offender was Allender, who not only allowed the conduct to occur but did not report any of the incidents to the district. His lame excuse, asking what could the district have done about it, shows that he either was ignorant of the district's policies and procedures or did not feel like going through the bother of following the rules by filing a report.

Another reason just might be that he did not see anything particularly wrong in any of these acts by a teenage girl in his care. His comments that "these are just kids" show just how little understanding he had of his duty to be an adult influence to the children.

Thankfully, several youngsters on the bus demonstrated more common sense and maturity and brought forward their concerns about these incidents. As one student pointed out to investigators, the students, not the driver, seemed to be in control of the bus.

This situation could easily have turned out tragically. A student told investigators that while the teenage girl was flashing her naked breasts in the bus, "Mr. Don was not paying attention to the road." Had the bus gotten into an accident while the driver was thus distracted, this situation would be much more than a case of kids acting wild and an adult acting like a frat boy.

This case should also raise questions in the minds of parents and district officials of whether this was an isolated situation or an indication of rampant misbehavior and lax supervision on the school buses.

In a move toward more closely monitoring student conduct, the district has installed digital cameras on all buses. However, the cameras have not proved very reliable. For one, the cameras are trying to capture activities on a bouncing bus. And that is when the cameras are actually working.

The camera on Allender's bus was not functioning properly during the times when the students were engaged in sexual misconduct. This means there is no recording of the events to either support the claims by the students or to back up Allender's contention that the complaining students are lying.

Properly maintaining the cameras comes at a price in both staff time and equipment. Since the district and the School Board have determined that the cameras are necessary on the buses, they must allocate the funds to make sure they are working.

Perhaps this high-tech nanny will help curtail student misconduct when the adult in charge either can't or won't do his job.

The district also must reiterate to its drivers the bounds for acceptable student behavior and the procedures to follow when the youngsters step over the line. It cannot be assumed that drivers either know or are following the proper rules, and a refresher course in light of this incident is warranted.

The school district cannot perform the duties of a parent and instill in a teenage girl the self-respect that would prevent her from debasing herself in such a public manner. But the district does have the means and responsibility of ensuring that the adults in its employ conduct themselves properly.

It is a sad day when the most mature people on a school bus do not include the driver.

[Last modified March 21, 2007, 20:02:34]

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