By Hillary S. Meeks
Killeen Daily Herald
What does a mother do when her children are suspended from riding the bus to school and she has no available transportation? This is a question Lucretia Morris of Harker Heights has asked since school came back into session after the winter break.
"The transportation department said if my kids do not go to school, that's my problem. I have no transportation whatsoever," Morris said. "I had an accident back in September. Our Suburban flipped four times. We're lucky to be alive."
Four of Morris' children attend Saegert Elementary School, and her two second- and fifth-grade sons have garnered so many bus referrals this school year that they were suspended from riding the bus for five days.
"When they just get this simple write-up and they've been suspended for five days, and they have no proof. It's just hearsay from the bus driver," she said.
Morris admitted there have been occasions her sons misbehaved and KISD was able to prove it by showing her video footage from the bus. But recently, she said, "They don't have no proof."
According to Joe Hart, manager of KISD transportation, he can't show Morris those videos because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. This act states that if a video shows children from different parents misbehaving, neither parent can view the video because it is considered an educational record.
"Our school lawyer says that they are educational documents protected by FERPA and those documents can't be shared with other parents," he explained.
Keith Harrison, director of student services, said there is a progressive discipline matrix that is consistently used at schools around the district to determine punishment for referrals.
"We do make allowances for age, but the bottom line is, without any extenuating circumstances or unique happenings ... if there are four office referrals, they're supposed to be put on probation," he said.
The fifth referral, if it is a bus referral, could possibly lead to alternative school, Harrison said. Morris said her sons have between 17 and 20 bus referrals each.
While middle and high schools usually stick with the hard and fast rules of the matrix, Harrison said some elementary schools may use discretion because of circumstances such as Morris'.
"If the parent has mentioned any kind of transportation hardship, the administrator may be trying to work with them," he said.
Often, when students acquire more than four bus referrals, they are banned from riding the bus for an entire semester, not the five days Morris' children have been suspended. Still, the mother said she believes KISD "is denying my children of their education."
Another policy worries Morris. Bus referrals are counted along with office referrals, and could lead to alternative school for her young sons.
On top of that, if she doesn't make sure her sons go to school when they are suspended, she is still held accountable under the compulsory education law.
"If a child doesn't go to school, the parent goes to court," Hart said.
But what Morris doesn't understand, Hart said, is that "riding the bus is a privilege, not a right, and if the student does not behave on the school bus, that privilege can be revoked."
Concerning Morris' statement that the bus driver's word is just "hearsay," Hart said all KISD drivers are given training when it comes to handling children and writing referrals.
"A school bus driver will do a referral, and that referral could be that they saw something happening, or a student could tell the driver and the driver refers it to the school," Hart said.
From there, the student's campus will receive the referral and decide what kind of disciplinary action will be taken.
Harrison said actions that can merit a referral fall into two categories: non-serious offenses, such as eating on the bus, and serious offenses, such as distracting the driver, fighting, standing up or bullying.
"Anything that takes the driver's eyes off away from the road," is how Harrison described a serious offense.
Neither Morris nor the school district said what kind of offenses her children were written up for, but Harrison said the non-serious offenses will not have the same kind of impact on the discipline matrix as the serious offenses.
Hart explained that suspension of a student from the bus is usually done for the safety of other students.
"If you have a student who is misbehaving or bullying other students, or who won't stay in their seat, they're endangering the safety of other students on the bus," he said.
Contact Hillary S. Meeks at firstname.lastname@example.org