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Schools: Tempers rise with the heat after bus driver halts ride home

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

Policies and parents collided on Highway 17 this week when about 50 Waccamaw Neck children sat in a hot school bus for up to 45 minutes because the driver said the kids were misbehaving.

Parents of the students, who are part of the district’s gifted and talented program, said they were upset because the kids were scared.

School district officials said the driver was following policy, but they are looking into the incident.

The driver stopped when children were unruly and she could no longer drive safely. When children called their parents to come get them, some parents rushed to the scene and tried to board the bus.

“The bus driver is not allowed to release any child on the bus,” said Ray White, the district spokesman. “It’s an administrator’s duty – just like a child can’t get on another bus to go home with a friend unless the bus driver has the administrator’s permission.”

According to state policy, a bus driver must pull over, take the keys out of the ignition, then turn around and talk to the students if they are making it unsafe to drive.

“They felt imprisoned and unsafe,” Jill Miller, a Waccamaw Intermediate School parent, said. “They were definitely suffering from heat stress.”

Other parents, who did not want to be named, agreed.

The temperature was in the upper 80s.

“In June in South Carolina, it’s hot,” White said. “Anytime there is a delay on the bus, if it stops, there’s not air moving in it, it’s uncomfortable. The safety of our children is our number one priority. If the bus driver feels they need to stop to keep the children safe, they stop.”

But the safety of the children is what parents are concerned about too – especially in the summer.

“If I had done that to my own children in the Food Lion parking lot, and someone witnessed me doing that, I would be in jail,” Miller said.

Jon Tester, the director of the elementary education program and gifted and talented program for the district, was the only administrator to arrive on the scene. He could not be reached for comment; however, five parents contacted him.

Miller suggested using air-conditioned buses during the hottest months of the year, installing more video cameras on buses to help with discipline, or creating some type of safety patrol system where older students monitor the younger.

Currently 20 cameras are on district buses and the district wants to get more, Tyronne Davis, who oversees district buses, said.

Activity buses have air conditioning but the district rents them out during the summer.

After the incident, Miller said her child and others told her the bus driver got upset at misbehaving students and stopped the bus.

That’s where parents found their children Monday sometime between 2:45 p.m., the time the bus left Georgetown High School, and 3:30 p.m., the time Miller said she arrived at the scene.

At that time, one father took his daughter from the bus to a nearby Mexican restaurant. He said his child has a medical condition and is fragile. She was about to faint when he found her.

Parents gathered by the bus were frustrated because they could not take their children off, Miller said.

“I talked to the bus driver for a very long time,” she said. “She felt kids were yelling, and she was supposed to pull the bus over if she couldn’t drive.”

Parents trying to board the bus thought the driver had trapped their children in the heat and was purposefully blocking them from getting onto get the kids.

“Now I understand that she wasn’t allowed to,” Miller said.

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