Lawrence Township bus driver punched by student

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MARION COUNTY – A Lawrence Township school bus driver said she is feeling better after a student punched her in the head on board her bus.

According to a report filed Monday, 70-year-old Carolyn Lee told police she was parked in front of Oaklandon Elementary School Thursday morning with a bus full of kids. She said she told the kids to stay on the bus until it was time to release them for school. While waiting, Lee said she began having problems with an 11-year-old student who refused to stay in his seat.

When Lee told him to stay seated, she said he called her an expletive. The report goes on to describe how the student walked up to Lee in her seat and punched her in the “right side of the head and ear with a closed fist.” Lee said she was “in extreme pain and dazed from the punch.”

She told police that she called for a school administrator, but decided not to file charges against the child. On Monday, she told FOX59 she was feeling better.

This is the second known incident of a bus driver being involved in an attack on the school bus.

Last month, IPS bus driver Charlotte McDaniel took a broom to the face of 14-year-old Autumn Bonilla. The teenager said she started arguing with the bus driver, while the driver was trying to discipline another child. Bonilla said she swore at the driver, then the two went at it first verbally then physically.

“She told me I had to put my phone away, and I told her I wasn’t putting anything away. Then, we started cussing at each other,” said Bonilla. “I completely 100 percent admit that I started it. I’m not going to sit here and lie to you. I did start it. But that (doesn’t) give a grown woman a reason to put her hands on me at all.”

The Director of the Office of School Transportation for the Indiana Department of Education had a few thoughts on these recent violent acts on buses.

“It shows that we some issues about how our bus drivers are interacting with our children and maybe some issues with how children are being brought into the world and taught proper respect,” said Mike LaRocco, who admits driving a school bus isn’t easy.

“One of the difficulties that we have with a school bus is that it’s less than as well supervised as a school,” he said. “We’re talking about a bus driver that’s working with 50-60 kids, with their back turned to them the entire time and their main method of interaction is that 10 inch by 30 inch interior mirror.”

While districts could change that dynamic by adding another staff member on the bus to keep control, LaRocco believes drivers can protect themselves by leaning on their training.

“Most of the time it involves first off, pulling over and securing the bus in a safe situation, requesting help immediately, and then trying to do your best to work with the child… talk with them, try and talk them down, disengage them.”

If that doesn’t work out, he said the bus drivers do have the right to defend themselves.

“When I say defend themselves, that doesn’t mean that they get to beat on the kid for minutes upon minutes. But if a child is trying to hit you, you have every right to defend yourself until such time as you disengage from a conflict.”

What happened aboard the IPS school bus, he said, did not fit that right. The driver was eventually charged and terminated by her employer, Durham School Services.

“That’s not acceptable behavior. There was a bunch of other alternatives this driver could’ve taken with a particular child,” said LaRocco. “The best tools that we’ve seen is having drivers build good relationships with their kids. Learn their names. Talk to them everyday when they get on the bus, greet them, say goodbye to them when they go off the bus everyday. And remember it’s not personal. It’s about driving that bus safely and working with those kids.”

The other equally important part of the solution, LaRocco emphasized, was to encourage parents to take responsibility for their child’s behavior and support the difficult duty of bus drivers.