Woman under probe after students ordered off bus

By John Hacker

Globe Staff Writer

PINEVILLE, Mo. - A McDonald County school bus driver is under investigation after allegedly losing her temper and ordering about 25 students, some of them with injuries, off her bus on a rural county road six miles east of Pineville after she was hit in the back of the head with a wad of Playdough.

Authorities said some children, who ranged from kindergartners to high schoolers, were hurt before being ordered off the bus when the driver allegedly made three abrupt stops, pitching the students into the seats in front of them. One was said to have suffered a broken nose.

Representatives of McDonald County Prosecutor Steve Geeding's office said charges of child endangerment might be filed today against the driver, who was not identified by school or county authorities.

Assistant Superintendent Dick Davis said the driver, who has only worked for the district about a month, has been suspended with pay pending the outcome of an internal and external investigation into Monday's incident.

The McDonald County Sheriff's Department said that the driver used a two-way radio on the bus to contact the school to request that a sheriff's deputy come to the scene on Cyclone Road north of Route K, but that she then drove about a quarter of a mile away from the children.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Tom West said he found the empty school bus and the driver at Cyclone Road and Route K, and then saw several students walking in the distance north on Cyclone Road.

West said he talked to the driver, then went to talk with the students, most of whom attend White Rock Elementary School.

West said he talked to one group of students about a quarter of a mile north of the bus, then went to talk to another group of students and parents a little farther from the bus.

West said that the bus driver drove the vehicle back to where a group of children were, and that some parents who had come to the scene confronted her. West said he ordered the driver to load the students who had not already gone home or met their parents back on the bus and to take them home.

The department was alerted about the incident about 3:45 p.m.

Tresa King, of Pineville, said her 11-year-old daughter was on the bus but was not hurt in the incident.

King said her daughter told her that the bus driver slammed on the brakes three times in unscheduled stops and cussed at the children.

She also said her daughter told her that some of the older children on the bus were misbehaving and provoked the driver.

"Some of the teenagers in the back of the bus were talking loudly and playing with Playdough," King said. "One kid threw some Playdough at another child and missed, hitting the driver in the back of the head. She slammed on the brakes and yelled at the children."

King said her daughter told her that the driver stopped a second time because a girl was hanging her arm out the window, then stopped a third time and threatened to call the Sheriff's Department and have the children put in detention.

King said her daughter told her that some of the older students opened the rear emergency door after the bus stopped the third time, and that the driver ordered the rest off the bus.

Barbara Keys, also of Pineville, said her two grandchildren, ages 5 and 6, ran off the bus crying when it stopped in front of her home. Keys said they weren't hurt in the incident, but they were frightened.

"They came running off the bus yelling for grandma and crying," Keys said. "My little grandson ran up and said, 'I didn't do nothing!' The kids were scared that someone was going to come and take them away."

Sheriff Robert Evenson said some students told authorities that they left the bus because they were afraid they would get in trouble.

"Some of the kids lived nearby and got home, told their parents what happened," he said. "Those parents called other parents and told them they should come out here. Other parents heard the scanner traffic and came out.

"It ended up we had a lot of very upset parents on the scene and Tom handed out complaint forms and asked them to return them."

Evenson said some parents were upset that the Sheriff's Department didn't arrest the driver at the scene, but he said officers didn't have enough information or evidence to make an arrest.

King said her daughter's behavior has changed since Monday.

"She's handling it better than I thought she would," King said. "She wants me at the bus stop with her instead of telling me, 'Mom the bus is coming, go away.' "

King said that the bus driver was wrong to slam on the brakes and cuss at the children, but that the children contributed to the incident.

"The kids were unruly, and I don't want them to feel like they got away with something by getting rid of someone they didn't like," King said. "If they feel that way, they'll do it again. The kids need to be reprimanded as well."

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