Students who ride Bus No. 6 within the Jay Public School System are having to find a new way to school this week, after school officials suspended their driver.
Marvin Stockton, director of transportation, and the district's upper elementary principal, said the Aaron Niehus, the driver in question, has been suspended with pay, until an internal investigation is complete.
The move comes, after a student posted a video to social media on Thursday, Feb. 15, showing Niehus in a verbal confrontation with a parent who refused to get off of the bus.
In the post, the eighth grader accused the driver of several acts of misconduct, including "cussing" out students, "grabbing little kids," and "slamming on the brakes while going down the road laughing about it."
She said in the incident Thursday, the driver "pushed the mother down the stairs of the bus, then kicked her."
"My camera jerked because I jumped when he kicked her so it wasn't very clear but you can see it," she wrote. "This needs to be taken care of."
At this time the Delaware County Journal is not listing the student's name because of her age.
On Friday, Stockton issued the letter, stating Niehus would be "suspended as of Tuesday, February 20th until a complete investigation has been completed."
"Students who ride Bus 6 will need to find an alternate mode of transportation to and from school," Stockton stated. "We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Please remember there is no school Monday, February 19th in observance of Presidents Day."
Stockton later confirmed Niehus was suspended with pay, and may work within the district's transportation building if something comes up needing to be completed.
Stockton said he has reviewed videos taken from one of the three cameras mounted on the bus.
One video, taken from the vantage point of the driver's seat and pointed at the door, shows the woman boarding the school bus with children in the Lakemont Shores area of the district. The other cameras are pointed at vantage points without a view of the door.
Stockton said the video shows Niehus asking the unidentified woman to leave the bus at least 11 times.
"He allegedly kicked her off the bus," Stockton said, referring to the video posted by the student. "I can't see that in my video at all."
Stockton added the woman was not "invited on the bus."
"Once you are asked to leave, you are trespassing," Stockton said. "She was asked to leave many times."
Stockton said because the woman refused to get off the bus, district officials could chose to pursue trespassing charges against her. At this time no charges have been filed.
Stockton said on the bus video, Niehus is seen getting up, and walking towards the bus door. The driver places his right hand on the padding in front of the front seat and "reaches over to pull the door shut."
"I don't think he touched her," Stockton said, based on the video footage. "Then he turned around, talked with his students and drove off."
Stockton said the route was suspended because the district does not have enough drivers to cover all of its routes.
Prior to Thursday, Stockton said he was already short two drivers. While he has substitutes, he said most are already school employees with other duties and cannot run a route on a regular basis.
Most days, Stockton said, he not only manages the department, but is serving a as a substitute driver.
Because of the driver shortage, bus no. 8 and 9, were already not running, making bus 6 the third bus without a driver.
"Transportation is not mandatory," Stockton said. "It's a privilege. It's not mandatory, but we offer it."
Stockton said an "all call" phone call to people along the route, went out to 89 phone numbers. He anticipates 70 students, pre kindergarten to high school, are impacted by the suspension.
"We keep an open job posting all year long," Stockton said. "It never closes."
He said the requirements for a CDL license, as well as the time requirements, often keep people from applying for the job.
Stockton said once drivers are hired, they must pass a drug test. Those tests are issued on a random basis. If a driver tests positive for drugs, they lose their CDL license.
Counseling and other steps are required in order to have the license re-issued by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.
Stockton said several people, including the district's superintendent, have viewed the video.
"I've shown the video to JPD [officers] and Mike Teel with the State Department [of Education]. They can't see anything either.
"It looks like he did everything perfectly. He followed procedures."
Stockton said in hindsight, he wishes Niehus had called 911 and requested law enforcement to come to the scene.
"I've told them in driver's training, that in any situation, they can call 911, especially if they feel their life, or the lives of the students are in danger," Stockton said.
Did You Know?
Qualifications for school bus drivers include:
• be over 18 years of age.
• pass a Department of Transportation physical.
• pass a drug and alcohol screening.
• pass a criminal background check.
• be able to obtain a CDL permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles - required to pass four written tests: general knowledge CDL, school bus endorsement, passenger endorsement and air breaks.
• complete 40 hours of in class and behind the wheel training at the district level.
• pass the driving and other testing required by the Department of Public Safety. The tests include a 40 minute pre-inspection verbal test, which requires drives to know the mechanical workings of the bus.
New drivers within the Jay Public School system are paid between $13 and $14 per hour. Substitute drivers are paid $35 per hour.
Drivers are employed for 173 days, and work on the same schedule as the students.