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Slugged by a student

Anne Stanton - April 18th, 2011
Slugged by a Student:Bus driver was fired for refusing to drive with violent teen onboard
By Anne Stanton
A bus driver, slugged in the head by a New Campus student in February, was
fired after he refused to drive the bus the next day without an additional
attendant to monitor the teen.
But Bill Schieber said that the incident brings up a larger issue than his
employment. He wants to make parents aware that their kids aren’t as safe
as they might assume—special needs kindergarteners ride the same bus as
older violent teens that boast about fights, routinely use profanity, and,
in his case, swing fists.
“It’s time for an awakening. It’s time to awaken the public,” said Bill
Schieber, a large man who used to own the Big and Tall store on South
Airport Road in Traverse City.
“I would hate to see one incident in which anybody has to go to a parent
and explain why their kid didn’t come home today. I don’t want to be that
person, I don’t want to be in that position.”
Young children, who are cognitively or physically impaired, must ride the
same bus as New Campus children, some of the most violence-prone students
in the four-county area. Schieber said that in most cases, the long bus
rides go smoothly, but the potential exists for trouble. Violence aside,
there is the issue of youngsters sitting next to mature teens, who freely
talk about their violent or sexual exploits in explicit language. It has
taken the concerted efforts of his attendant to make his bus free of the
f* word (he calls it an f-free bus). What he fears most is the lack of
security for those who have been identified as the most violent students.
“It only takes one. It only takes one incident. Looking back to Columbine
or UVA, so many folks have come forward with remorse and said they knew
something was very troubling about that child and wished they would have
done more. It’s evident that some of these New Campus students have some
very volatile issues,” Schieber said.

But a spokesman for the bus driver’s employer doesn’t believe this is an
issue that needs a public airing. He says that special education students
are safe and Schieber simply mishandled the situation.
“We are aware that there is a mixture of older and younger kids. It’s
happening all over Michigan, and, with the state’s budget problems, it’s
only going to become more widespread. But Bill also has the training to
address these students, to keep the bus safe and secure. This is not the
experience other bus drivers have,” said Troy Scott, director of human
services for Dean Transportation, a Lansing-based company, privately
contracted to transport students.
Yet Schieber complained that, although he wrote a report about the
incident, he never had any conversation with any Dean Transportation
authority about what happened. He wonders how Scott can assume that he
mishandled the situation.
“The thing that irritates me is that nobody from Dean or the schools got a
verbal statement from me. None of them! None have said anything to me.
Even to the fact of, ‘Bill are you okay?’ Nothing.”
Marie Connors-Gilmore, the assistant superintendent for the Traverse Bay
Area Intermediate School District, refused to comment on the incident,
citing privacy reasons, but said she doesn’t believe that TBA-ISD students
are in danger. An additional attendant is always on board.
“We have very, very few bus incidents overall, probably no more than a
regular school district. Our kids are quite safe. We don’t have kids
attacked by other students on the bus. We keep a really good eye on what’s
going on. If necessary, we have more than one attendant.”
The story began on February 4, when Mike — a 22-year-old student in the
Adult Work Study program — discovered his cell phone was missing. He
reported his missing phone to Schieber, who advised him to look for it
over the weekend and see if he could find it.
On Monday, Mike told Schieber he still hadn’t found it, so Schieber, while
driving, asked the bus attendant to try calling the phone number. Schieber
heard a muffled ringing, but no one picked it up. The attendant called
again and, still, no one answered.
Schieber pulled the bus over and had the attendant ring the phone a third
Schieber walked to the back of the bus and identified the backpack, which
he soon identified as belonging to ‘Jack’* (it wasn’t next to him).
Schieber knew Jack well. He was a student at New Campus, a center that
educates students with severe anger problems.
Schieber had sought to establish rapport with Jack throughout the year by
asking him to bring in his art sketches and offering to print them
professionally so he could sell them. He also asked Jack to give special
attention to a younger student, who screamed all the way to school (the
youngster had to wait until school to receive medication that allayed the
screaming). Jack agreed, and the student stopped screaming. Unfortunately,
Jack quickly lost interest.
When Schieber asked him about the ringing phone, Jack responded, “There
ain’t no f* cell phone in my backpack. Just my computer.”
Schieber held the backpack, and questioned him again. “It’s just my f*ing
computer,” Jack responded.

Schieber carried the backpack to the front of the bus and asked his
attendant to dial his supervisor at Dean Transportation, a private bus
company that has been contracted by TBA-ISD five years ago to deliver
special education students back and forth from school.
Schieber was advised to return to New Campus, about four miles away.
“I hung up the phone, turned around and Jack’s face is a quarter inch from
mine. I calmly told him, ‘Go sit down.’ He said, ‘I’m not f*ing going back
to my seat and there is nothing you can do. I want my f*ing computer back.
It’s my computer and you ain’t going to hurt it.’”
Schieber told him it was too late and to sit down. Jack again refused.
Schieber then attempted to step forward and around Jack to get into the
driver seat, triggering Jack to slug him in the left side of his head near
his eye.
“I saw stars. I went down to the seat. By that time, (Jack) was violently
shaking with his fists clenched at his sides, and he returned to his
seat,” said Schieber, who has recently felt random flashes of pain in his
Schieber informed dispatch that he would not be returning to New Campus
and would remain where he was until help arrived.
Soon afterward, a Michigan State Police trooper arrived and handcuffed
Jack, who continued to use profanity. After placing Jack in the patrol
car, the trooper questioned Schieber and told him he was familiar with
Jack. He commented that Jack would probably be spending some time in jail.
“This child is a bomb waiting to go off,” Schieber said he was told.
The trooper also questioned Jack. The teen told the trooper that he “had
nothing to lose” when he slugged Schieber, adding that the driver had no
right to take his backpack. He alleged that Schieber had pushed him three
times to get him to sit down. “I told him I would punch him if he didn’t
stop, so I hit ‘em,” according to the trooper’s report.
Schieber denies he shoved Jack. Mike said Schieber remained calm as Jack
escalated into a scary rage.
Jack, a minor, has since been petitioned for assault and larceny, both
misdemeanors, said Benzie County Prosecutor John Daugherty.

Schieber’s supervisor asked him to write up a report about the incident
and to see a doctor at Urgent Care, which took him until 9:30 p.m. that
One significant problem, said Schieber, is that there are no video cameras
on the buses, as there are on school buses in other school districts. As a
result, every incident turns into a “he said, she said” argument.
The next morning, Schieber stopped briefly at the teen’s bus stop, but
drove on when he saw the house was dark and no one was at the stop. That
afternoon, he learned Jack would be on the bus—not in jail. He asked his
supervisor to provide handcuffs or an additional attendant to monitor
Jack. The supervisor said she couldn’t do that. Schieber recalls saying,
“You know, when a school stops looking at these kids as dollar signs and
numbers, it will be a safer place.” After a heated exchange, he told his
supervisor to “Shove it. You can find someone else to transport him home.”
And then he walked out.
Worried about his job, he called the president of the Dean Transportation
Employees Union about what had happened. He was assured he’d get his job
back since he’d left “under duress.” (The union president days later
called the National Labor Relations Board and was told that Schieber did
effectively quit, despite the fact he was under duress.)
The next morning, Schieber reported for work at 4 a.m. and again asked for
an additional attendant. He was told he was no longer employed since he’d
quit the day before. Schieber denied he quit. Shortly afterward, a man
approached him and asked if he was the driver for Run Two. He told him
that he was up until a couple of minutes ago. The man said he was there to
work as a second attendant because “he heard that there was some trouble
on the bus.”
Mike, the older student, confirmed that a second attendant rode the bus
two days after the assault, but added that the kids were still fearful. It
had scared them to see one of their fellow students punch a driver and get
handcuffed. Mike said he was also upset that Jack had used his phone to
text profanity-laced messages to his friends.
“I felt very frightened the next day. And I even gave my backpack to
Bonnie (the attendant), and had her put it in the corner and watch it
every second. No one even wanted to be on the bus with him,” he said.
“They had someone sit right next to him and watch his every move.”
Mike fears his problems may not be over.
“There’s even another kid I’m not so sure about. He looks like he’s not
very good. If you try to do something to him, he could totally rip you
down on the ground.”
It isn’t clear whether Jack is still on the bus. Mike said he wasn’t.
Scott denies a second attendant was hired to oversee Jack. He also said
that Jack rode the bus for about a month after the incident, but couldn’t
say more because of privacy reasons.

The incident illustrates the problems that can occur when a service—such
as school bus driving—is privatized.  The special education students were
once transported by the school system that they would normally attend,
such as Mancelona or Benzie Central. The bus drivers would park their
buses at home at night, pick up the kids, and then return home again.
For funding reasons, transportation responsibilities were shifted from the
individual school districts to the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School
District. And for cost-saving purposes, it was ultimately privatized
gradually, given over to Dean Transportation, a statewide bus service
beginning in 2007.
Yet Dean’s turnover rate has been very high, with drivers often fired when
a conflict between students occurs or if a bus driver is seen as overly
stern. One driver, for example, was recently fired for telling a student
to shut up and sit down. Another was fired for failing to report a fight
between two students on the bus, which occurred while he was strapping a
young child in a safety harness, said Schieber, who served as a Traverse
City representative for Dean Transportation’s in-house union.
Despite the stress and responsibility for student lives, the pay is low.
Schieber, who is now looking for a new job after three years of working
for Dean, earned $12 an hour with no benefits. Yet he remains hopeful he
can get his job back.

Schieber claimed that the students are almost never suspended from the
Dean Transportation bus, no matter how badly they behave. Normally, he
says, the supervisor and TBA-ISD principal blames the driver, who is then
fired. That’s in contrast with students who ride the TCAPS (Traverse CIty
Area Public Schools) buses and are automatically suspended for assault,
according to Christine Thomas, director of transportation.
“If there is a fight, punches thrown, typically that’s considered major
misconduct, with an automatic 10-day suspension, which would go hand in
hand with an in-school suspension. We work with the school principal, and
what the school wants takes precedence,” she said.
She said that if a bus driver for any route was confronted with the same
issue as Schieber, she would have responded with an additional attendant.
“I wouldn’t put someone in a situation where they are fearful for their
safety. Regardless of who the kids are, if an incident like that occurred,
I wouldn’t say no to that request.”

But what happens when students have been identified as special needs with
specific anger problems?
Scott said the answer isn’t that simple.
Students attend New Campus because they have a condition that renders them
unable to process their anger and emotions in a rational way. Just like
other special education students, each New Campus student has an
Individualized Education Plan that outlines behavior goals and objectives
with steps to achieve them.
Schieber concurs that the goals are admirable, yet safety standards must
still be put into place.
“They should not be transported in the midst of students that would never
be able to defend themselves in the event of a crisis meltdown of a New
Campus student. We didn’t receive any IEP’s for New Campus students on our
bus with the exception of one.”
Scott said that bus drivers receive special and extensive training to
handle anger-prone students. Schieber also received additional training on
how to handle Jack.
“The problem is he didn’t follow instructions, and he got hurt,” Scott said.

Scott declined to speak about the specific incident, but said that drivers
are told in their training to establish a relationship with troubled
students. A driver needs to take the opportunity of rewarding and
recognizing positive behavior. The driver should be able to observe if a
student is having a bad day, and, if so, to seat him away from other
students and close to the driver. A driver can never confront or scold a
New Campus student as you would a regular child because it triggers and
escalates his or her rage.
“The last thing you want to do is invade their space—not attacking or
confronting them in any physical way. If you start engaging them when
their temper is already high, that can escalate a situation.”
But Schieber countered that he followed the rules to the letter—he never
touched Jack, never yelled at him, or raised his voice—and Jack entered
his space while his back was turned. He did not confront him, but said in
a calm voice, “Go sit down.”
“Had anyone discussed the incident with me, they would have known what had
taken place and that I had followed the procedures I was trained for,” he
Secondly, Scott said it was unreasonable of Schieber to come in and ask
for a second attendant to be immediately put in place. Each incident
requires an administrative conference to review the facts of the case.
“To demand and insist, and to think we can snap our fingers and
immediately put another attendant into place—that’s illogical,” Scott
Schieber claims that he did not “demand,” but requested another attendant
be put on the bus, which he said was not unreasonable given that the
student slugged him the previous day. Additionally, the school was
obviously able to organize a second attendant the next morning. Finally,
he believes that the school should have prioritized the safety of students
over the administrative process and suspended Jack from the bus.
Scott also maintained that Schieber could have taken a personal leave of
absence rather than refuse to do his job. Although that was not
necessarily explained to him, he should have known that as a union
representative, Scott said.
Schieber said he didn’t know he had that option.
Scott said that New Campus has been very happy with Schieber’s replacement
“The school tells us that kids are happier getting on and going home if
that tells you anything,” he said.
Yet Mike said that he and the other kids really liked Schieber and were
sad to see him go.

The drivers are employed and trained by Dean Transportation to handle the
special TBA-ISD population of 400 students. The job, put simply, is
challenging. The bus rides are extremely long for the children—up to two
hours—and some of the kids continually scream or make loud, unusual
The training program is especially designed for intermediate school
districts.  Scott said that the bus drivers get upfront training on health
emergencies in partnership with Lansing Community College. A program
developed by the Crisis Prevention Institute is used to train drivers on
how to deal with violent-prone students. He said that Dean Transportation
provides 250 hours of training, which goes above and beyond what the state
Schieber said he recalls receiving the three-day training in the space of
two days—much of it pertaining to medical issues.
“If we have a violent kid, we can’t touch them. We have training for when
they hit other kids—to use a straitjacket hold—that we can do. We
virtually can’t tell them what to do. All we can do is request,” Schieber
The buses transport students to and from a four-county area, including
Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau and Benzie counties. There are low
numbers of students—only about 1 percent of the students out of each
district—and each student suffers from a unique problem, ranging from
moderate autism to severe cerebral palsy. It’s sometimes the case that an
adult student cannot speak or walk (Adult work study students attend
school up until the age of 26).
Students often take pillows and blankets and sleep on the ride. In fact,
Mike’s cell phone was stolen while he was sleeping on his ride back to
Young children are often strapped in or sit in wheelchairs. It is not
unusual for them to sit next to a New Campus teen, Schieber said.

Teachers at New Campus, an alternative K-12 school situated on the grounds
of Grand Traverse Commons, strive to help the students gain control of
their emotions, using a structured reward and consequence system. The
school’s staff and teachers are trained to deal with the students’
behavior if and when it turns violent. The New Campus staff takes
precautions such as patting down students as soon as they arrive at
school, as well as scanning them with a wand, to ensure they are not
carrying weapons. Many of the students successfully overcome their anger
problems and return to their regular schools, while others stay at the
school for years.
Schieber wonders why the New Campus staff search students for weapons once
they arrive at school, yet don’t do the same for children who ride the bus
in close quarters.
Connors-Gilmore explained that it would invade the privacy of a student to
have to get patted down or screened with a wand alongside the road.
She explained that a New Campus student would be suspended for assaulting
a staff person, but each incident is looked at individually.
Suspending a student with anger control issues from school for a week
isn’t always in the student’s best interest, i.e., it wouldn’t cause the
student to control their anger any better the next time, Connors-Gilmore
said. Also, many of the students come from extremely troubled homes or
homes where both parents work and wouldn’t be able to supervise their
child during the day.
Adding an additional attendant isn’t a light decision, she said,
especially if there isn’t someone with experience. “They might not
necessarily add a safety layer or perhaps even have the opposite effect.
You’d want to look at it,” Conners-Gilmore said.
Conners-Gilmore said that state law requires bus transportation for all
special needs ISD students. The task is made far more challenging with the
great distances the buses must travel; to transport the violent teens
separately from the younger special needs children would be cost
prohibitive she said.
To protect the safety of the bus driver and other students, each reported
incident is closely examined she said.
“We look at the precipitating event and what were the specific
triggers. We try to figure out what happened, what led up to it, what
happened after that. What might have contributed to the behavior?”
“We look at it together with Dean Transportation. If the attendant said,
‘I wasn’t paying enough attention,’ we’d say, ‘We’d like it if you paid
more attention.’ It’s done together, not an ‘us against them’ sort of
thing. Not everyone is cut out to be a bus driver–sometimes it’s not a
good a match. It really isn’t for everybody.”

Yet Schieber said he enjoyed the kids and felt they liked him. “I made a
special effort because the special needs kids didn’t have it at home in
most cases. So I wanted to be there for the kids who needed a friend.” He
was even requested by one parent to make a special trip out to Lake Ann,
15 miles out of his way, because he was her favorite driver.
“We had a good bus ride. I could provide signed affidavits to that effect.
(Jack) was the only one who had trouble with me, and the reason he didn’t
like me was that Bonnie and I stuck to the, ‘You have to quit your
swearing.’ We asked him politely and he adhered to it. He wasn’t using it
until that day.”
The mother of Mike said Schieber was a “really good bus driver.” She was
surprised to learn that he’d been effectively fired after refusing to
drive without a second attendant.
“It would have been nice if they could have worked with him and made him
feel safe, because safety is huge. I think they’re doing a pretty good
job, and it’s seemed fairly safe. But since then, everything is different;
I do have more concerns, on how they are planning on making it more safe
and preventing something like this from happening again. They might need
more aides or chaperones if they’re going to allow someone like Jack to
ride the bus.”
Are parents allowed to ride the bus to ensure the environment is safe?
Scott said it’s up to the school district, but it’s rare except in the
beginning of the year when things are getting settled. “If we let one
parent do it, we’d have to let everybody.”
And yet, Schieber said, parents can still ask their kids: “Tell me about
your bus ride today.”

Students’ names were changed in this article to protect their identity.

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