Editor’s Note: Because of a production error, only the front-page portion of this story appeared in last Thursday’s Beacon. As of yesterday, Superintendent Richard D’Agostino said the incident continues to be investigated. He did not believe a monitor has been assigned to the bus as of Monday and said, “It’s on hold until we hear from the principal in the building.”
By JENNIFER RODRIGUES
After her daughter was assaulted on the school bus, a Warwick parent began questioning why a bus monitor was not there.
A mother, who chose to remain anonymous, was surprised when her kindergartener got off of the bus last Thursday with a large red mark across her face. When asked what happened, the child said a fellow classmate had reached over the back of the seat and struck her in the face.
The mother decided to call other parents to try and piece together the story. Other classmates confirmed her daughter’s story, that she has not provoked the incident and that the child had been taunting her the entire bus ride by kicking the back of her seat.
She also learned the child was encouraging other classmates on the morning kindergarten bus from Sherman Elementary to hit her daughter.
The concerned parent called the school’s principal on Friday to report the incident. The principal told her that she would speak to both the student and the student’s parents.
Superintendent Richard D’Agostino said yesterday in a phone interview that the principal is still investigating the situation to determine what exactly occurred on the bus. When asked about dealing with instances of bullying in students as young as 5, D’Agostino said they will handle the situation as they see fit.
“We try to deal with it with common sense and by promoting citizenship,” said D’Agostino, especially since the students in question are so young.
But the mother was still concerned at the fact that a bus monitor was not on the bus, something that is required by state law. She says her daughter has been riding the same bus all year and a bus monitor has never been present.
Although the duty of the bus monitor is primarily seen as the safety of students as they get on and off at stops, she feels they play another part in students’ safety.
“If there was an adult on the bus besides the bus driver, instances like this could be avoided,” said the mother in a phone interview.
According to the RIDE school transportation standards, bus monitors do take part in behavioral management training. Even Steven O’Haire, transportation manager for Warwick Public Schools, said in a phone interview that his office describes the responsibilities of a bus monitor as “to assist the children on and off the bus and maintain order of the students on the bus,” in addition to helping drivers.
“My child was assaulted on the bus, what are you going to do about it?” asks the mother.
So the school directed the mother to O’Haire. When she brought up the fact there was no bus monitor, she says O’Haire claimed he was unaware there was no monitor for that route.
The mother asked O’Haire whose responsibility it was to make sure all buses had the necessary monitors and he admitted it was his.
D’Agostino explained that in instances where bus monitors get sick or can’t work for one reason or another, “the state has allowed us to continue operating the buses.”
“The state is lenient, but they usually give a deadline [to get a monitor],” he said.
During her conversation with O’Haire, the mother was informed that trainees were coming in and he would see if any of them would fill the open position. However, he admitted finding bus monitors “can take time.”
O’Haire explained there are periodic training sessions for new bus monitors, but the trainees must then complete paperwork, fulfill requirements with the police and go through another training session before they can become a full-time monitor.
Although he was not aware of the absence of a bus monitor on the morning kindergarten route, O’Haire says someone in the office was. O’Haire is now working to fill the open position.
D’Agostino added that with midday buses that operate for roughly an hour, finding someone to cover that shift could be difficult.
“If you’re supposed to have a bus monitor, look for a monitor,” said the mother. “I don’t want to play Monday morning quarterback with my child’s safety.”
The mother took further action, reaching out to Patty Durfee, RIDE director of transportation. Durfee informed her that schools could have a 10 percent gap in bus monitors for a two-month period.
As of Wednesday morning, School Committee member Eugene Nadeau was unaware any incident had even occurred or that no bus monitor was present on the route.
“We are never told about these human events,” he said.
While she had no intention to start this crusade when she spoke to the school principal about this incident, it has turned into a topic this mother feels needs to be looked at to keep children safe.
“I am just trying to bring light to this issue,” she said.