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Average of four Watertown students kicked off bus daily

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A year ago when video cameras were installed on buses used by the Watertown City School District, administrators figured they would be able to crack down on and reduce students’ bad behavior. But statistics provided by Freeman Bus Corp. show the situation may be getting worse.

A 10-minute YouTube video of an H.T. Wiley Intermediate School student four weeks ago using profanity and vulgarity toward a Freeman bus driver was “by far the most serious, at least verbally,” incident that district Superintendent Terry N. Fralick said he had ever heard. “I’ve never, in my experience, heard a student speak so disrespectfully.”

The student was suspended from riding the bus for the remainder of the school year. But he was not alone. During the past school year an average of four Watertown students per day committed infractions serious enough to get suspended from riding a school bus.

According to Freeman Bus Corp. owner Robert C. Freeman III, approximately 993 bus conduct reports were written about Watertown students during the 185-day school year. About 75 percent — or about 744 — resulted in students being suspended from riding the bus.

Mr. Fralick said all 32 of the district’s school buses are equipped with two security cameras, and videos are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Despite the severity of the Wiley student incident, the district does not plan to change the policy.

“My conclusion is that it is a spontaneous outburst, but we don’t know for sure,” he said. “You can’t put monitors in all the buses. I believed this is an isolated incident, and I don’t think this is the usual behavior on our buses; otherwise, we’d be talking about an extensive intervention plan.”

Bus monitors are provided only for children with learning disabilities.

School bus violations run the gamut from being too loud and having legs in the aisle to swearing and fighting, according to Louis J. Peto, Freeman transportation director.

The first incident generally results in a warning. For the second infraction, a student is not allowed on the bus for two days, the third for five days, the fourth for 20 days and the fifth for the remainder of the year.

The rising number of student conduct violations were the reason Freeman Bus Corp. started keeping track of yearly bus infractions. The company provides buses to Watertown and the county’s preschools. It also provides labor contracts for the Indian River Central School District.

“Everyone’s in agreement that the student management issues have increased,” Mr. Peto said.

Mr. Freeman said a serious infraction like the one with the Wiley student would get the student kicked off the bus even if it were a first infraction. The school can administer additional discipline such as detention or suspension, which Mr. Fralick said took place the first week of June when the incident occurred.

“That protocol has been in place since the 1960s,” he said. “He was kicked off immediately.”

According to Mr. Peto, the student’s outburst took place in the afternoon when the bus driver was dropping students off at home. The driver was told to document what happened and report it to the intermediate school in the morning.

Mr. Fralick was not aware of the YouTube video, recorded by another student, when the Wiley student was disciplined. He said he was concerned about the welfare of the other children on the bus in addition to the verbal abuse aimed at the driver.

“Having looked at the YouTube video, the vulgarity is shocking,” he said. “Everyone could have been hurt by the bus driver being distracted.”

The video, which shows more than the two audio-visual security cameras were able to, caught the student getting out of the seat and poking the bus driver while the bus was moving. The security camera in the front of the bus only shoots down the aisle.

Mr. Peto said he trains bus drivers to use their best judgment in those types of situations.

“The driver was much more concerned with getting those kids home than to pull over the bus, escalating that situation to a much larger situation,” he said.

The YouTube page is titled “Watertown, New York — Kid bullies bus driver.” The video may be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2rVaZa0wVc&feature=youtube. This video includes vulgarity; viewer discretion is advised.

A similar bullying incident in the town of Greece, a suburb of Rochester, drew national attention when a film of the incident was loaded on YouTube. In the video, an elderly bus monitor was bullied to tears by several students.

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