Busted on the Bus

A busload of Lakelands Park Middle School (LPMS) students got a round trip ride recently when their bus driver returned them to school for misbehaving.

Bus 2325 was taking kids home after school on Nov. 29 when students on the bus started to act up, according to Tom Watkins, Montgomery County Director of Transportation. He said students were toying with the emergency window levers, tripping the emergency buzzing sound they make when opened.

Unable to get the students to stop, the driver made a u-turn and took them back to school.

“These days it is very rare for a bus to take students back to school,” Watkins said.

Out of the 1,100 routes run by MCPS transportation, Watkins said he estimates there are bus behavior issues that warrant bus driver assistance about once a week. Drivers have the option of requesting a supervisor meet the bus at a stop, and in more elevated cases, drivers can call police.

In this case the driver did not notify the transportation administration but simply returned to school. There the driver requested that a security guard at LPMS enter the bus to talk to the students about their behavior, Watkins said.

“My understanding is that there were quite a few kids involved in the issue and the driver wanted the whole group of kids to be talked to,” Watkins said.

LPMS Principal Deborah Higdon said she was unaware of the incident until told by The Town Courier.

“The bus driver did not feel it was alarming enough to have the administrative staff involved,” she said. No students were disciplined by the school for the incident.

Bus 2325 also serves Rachel Carson Elementary School (RCES) students. Those students were taken home about 30 minutes late.

RCES Principal Larry Chep said he had parents calling wanting to know where their child was that day and why the bus was late, but he said he never got word from the transportation department that there was an issue with the bus.

Some parents waiting for the kids called the school while others headed there to pick them up.

“It would have been nice to get a message, but we were outside waiting for them so we probably wouldn’t have gotten it anyway,” said Jaime Freedman of Rockborn Street.

Parent Jenni Slater of Gentlewood Street said she was not alarmed that the bus did not arrive to the bus stop until 4 p.m. It normally has the kids home by 3:30 p.m.

“My son Jack’s biggest compliant was that he was starving when he got home and had to wait an extra half hour to fill his belly,” she said. “If anyone was alarmed it was very easy to call the school and get the information.”

Chep said he didn’t use the Connect Ed phone system because he wasn’t sure when the bus was going to arrive.

“I was close to doing it, but the bus could have come any minute,” he said, adding the transportation department should have made him aware of the situation.

Watlkins agreed.

“We should have communicated to that school. The normal procedure is to call and we didn’t do it,” he said.