Despie Fight, School Bus Policy to Stay; 'This Is Not a Bus Company Problem; This a Student Behavior Problem,' Schools Superintendent Says

Article excerpt

Byline: DANA TREEN and CYNTHIA GARZA, The Times-Union

A school bus company policy that forbids drivers from intervening in beatings like one last week of a 12-year-old student was approved as part of the company's contract with the Duval County school system and is not likely to be changed, school and company officials said Thursday.

"We do feel that the procedures that they do have in place do support and complement the procedures we have in place," said school system spokeswoman Marsha Oliver.

In the Feb. 4 incident, the victim was pummeled by one student, then others, for about 30 seconds. Seven students have been suspended pending a School Board investigation and hearing about the case. The beating, which was captured on videotape by a bus security camera, has gotten national news media attention.

In other developments Thursday:

-- The State Attorney's Office is planning to investigate the case, which is also being reviewed by the state Department of Juvenile Justice.

-- A bus company official said he has not determined whether the driver should have acted differently.

-- School officials, including Superintendent John Fryer, said the School Board plans an overall review of bus driver standards this spring.

Oliver said the district did not have an opinion on whether the driver of the First Student bus should have intervened.

Bus contractors are required to address how incidents will be handled as part of the contract. Oliver said First Student does not allow drivers to pull students apart. The attack happened as the bus was delivering students from Landon Middle School in San Marco.

Drivers are told to evaluate the situations and call dispatchers who can decide to call police, Oliver said.

The victim, a Landon Middle School student who is not being identified by the Times-Union because he is a juvenile, said the driver did not do anything to stop the others from striking him. The boy's mother said he will be transferring to another school.

John Ziegler, the bus company's regional operations manager, said he is still reviewing the case and would not comment on the driver's actions. He said he has talked to the driver but would not release his name.

Ziegler said he saw the tape and was shocked that students would act in that manner but said the company's policy regarding drivers won't change. …