November 15, 2013

Maine bus driver removed for allegedly taping students’ mouths shut

An investigation is looking into the conduct of a driver for Surry Elementary School.

By Leslie Bridgers
Staff Writer

A bus driver for Surry Elementary School was removed from her position last week after two fourth-grade girls told their principal that the driver had made them wear duct tape on their mouths for being loud on the bus.

First Student, the Ohio-based company that provides the school’s bus service and employs the drivers, said the driver is on administrative leave while the company does an internal investigation. Neither the company nor Surry Elementary School Principal Cathy Lewis would name the driver.

Lewis said that, regardless of the results of the investigation, the driver will not be welcome back at the school in Blue Hill-based Union 93.

Lewis said she found out on the morning of Nov. 6 that the bus driver, who started working at Surry Elementary at the beginning of this school year, had been putting duct tape on the mouths of students or passing it around for them to put on their own mouths.

That morning, two girls complained to the principal that they shouldn’t have had to wear the tape, which had a Hello Kitty design, because they weren’t the loudest students on the bus.

Lewis later found out that on Nov. 5, two kindergarten girls got off the bus at home with duct tape on their mouths. She said their parents told her they had asked the bus driver about it and the driver had said it was just a game.

Since then, Lewis said, the driver has denied using duct tape at all.

She said most children on the bus said they thought of it as a game. “Most of the kids didn’t see any problem.”

Even the two girls who approached the principal weren’t upset, but felt they shouldn’t have had to wear the tape because they weren’t the loudest students, Lewis said.

She said she told students at the school’s morning meeting on Nov. 7, “If there is anything out of the ordinary, you need to let an adult know.”

Lewis said she stands out by the buses every morning and afternoon, when students get on or off, to check in with the children and make herself available to talk to bus drivers about any issues.

Because First Student couldn’t provide a new driver right away on the afternoon of Nov. 6, Lewis rode the bus with the students.

“I was slightly beside myself,” she said, not being able to remove the driver immediately.

However, she said, First Student has been cooperative. “They were as taken aback as I was.”

First Student responded to a request for comment with a written statement:

“At First Student, the safety and security of the students we transport is our core value. We take these allegations very seriously, and are conducting a full internal investigation,” it said.

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