Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Big Yellow Bus Ain't Coming

Let's get local for a few minutes. Here in Henry County a story is developing that I find interesting, I hope you do as well.

Around the last day of March or the first day of April a Henry County school bus driver was faced with a dilemma. At the end of Maple Drive, a residential street a little over 1/3 of a mile long here in Collinsville, his usual turn-around spot was occupied by a vehicle. What's a guy to do? Did he pull his big yellow bus into the parking lot of the apartment complex to execute his turn-around? Nope. Not our hero the bus driver. Instead, he "secured the bus" by setting the air brakes, placing the transmission in neutral, and with the engine running and the children waiting patiently on board, he proceeded to beat on the door of the apartment dweller who had so impetuously taken his turn-around spot. Yep, woke him up. Berated him loudly, using very colorful language according to a 10 year-old eyewitness, and still he lost the argument.

Our hero then pulled his big yellow bus into the parking lot of the apartment complex to execute his turn-around...

Now, in most communities the ellipses at the end of the previous sentence would be replaced with the phrase "which has now become his new turn-around procedure". And that would be the end of the story. At least as far as those students are concerned it would be the end of the story. In most other communities the bus driver would be in pretty deep doo-doo. You don't leave a bus with the engine running and a load of impish youngsters on it, to go pick a fight with someone you've just woke up.

But, like I said, that's not quite how the story ends. Not here in Henry County. Nothing is ever quite that simple or logical here in Henry County.

The following morning, a bright, sunshiny Spring morning, all seven children on Maple Drive were out waiting for their big yellow ride. It never came. Well, it did come. Sorta. It came to the intersection of Maple and Meadow Drive and stopped. No one got on at that stop. There was no one there to get on. No one had told the parents of those seven little children that the bus would no longer go to the apartment building at the end of Maple Drive.

Henry County's Honeywell Instant Alert system works great. When it's activated it will ring every phone you got until you get the message. It's used for the normal emergency notifications for which it was designed. It's also used to let parents know that the candles they ordered for the most recent fund-raiser have arrived, could you please come pick them up? But no one can be bothered to call seven mothers and let them know that the bus will not magically appear at its usual time and at its usual place tomorrow morning. Or any other morning.

Again, in most communities a few phone calls to the school superintendent and the kerfuffle would have ended. The bus would suddenly reappear one morning and all would be over. Over for all except the bus driver who would now be searching for another part-time job. But not here.

Calls were made, of course. Many calls. Calls to school board members. Calls to the Transportation Supervisor, Velera Gammons. Even calls to the School Superintendent, Sharon Dodson. Polite, courteous calls. But it seems the more calls that were made, the more Ms. Gammons and Ms. Dodson dug in their heels. They are NOT going to send a bus up Maple Drive. No, they WILL NOT discipline the bus driver, Jim Martin. And those seven little kids, some in kindergarten and first grade, WILL walk to where the bus is or, as Ms. Dodson so rudely put it to some of the mothers, they WILL provide their own transportation.

I don't know how this story will end. Will Dodson and Gammons follow their own Henry County Schools Policies and Regulations, which states clearly that roads over .2 miles in length will be served with bus transportation?
The school buses of Henry County Public Schools do not operate for elementary students on state maintained roads that are .2 mile or less. These buses do not operate for middle and high school students on state maintained roads that are .3 miles or less. In developing bus routes, the distance between designated bus stops will be no less than .1 mile. [LINK]
Or will they merely change this policy to suit their whims? Will Jim Martin, the bus driver, be disciplined?

While we wait for this story to come to its end I have a few questions of my own.

Ms Gammons and Ms. Dodson say that Henry County School buses may not use private property as a turn-around spot, ruling out the apartment building's parking lot. But the original turn around spot is part of the apartment building property, the owner of which has given his blessing for its use. I live on a different street in Collinsville, another cul-de-sac like Maple Drive, guess where the bus that serves my street turns around. Right. In an apartment building's parking lot.

There are many cases in Henry County where a school bus actually picks up its riders who are waiting at a strip-mall, secure and dry under the portico. I believe, though it may need to be explained to me, that strip-malls are actually private property.

Both ladies claim that an accident occurring on private property cannot be reported to the State Police in order to obtain a police report for insurance purposes. Wrong. A call to the Salem Headquarters confirmed that the Virginia State Police will certainly come to such a scene at the request of the School System, they even have a special form designed just for that purpose, Captain Denny proudly stated.

I have many more stories about Ms. Dodson the School Superintendent. If this one does not end soon I'll be happy to share a few others. Stories like the one about secret meetings while on retreat. Oh, and there is a great story about her tossing a special education student out of school on a bogus charge of being a non-resident. I'll bet you can't wait to read that one.

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