Questions follow violence on Hernando school bus

A Hernando student was hitting other students on a bus, but the driver's call for a deputy drew no alarm.
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Elementary school kids were terrorized on a Hernando County bus when driver’s plea to the district for a deputy’s help went unanswered.

“My son said he was breaking pencils, trying to stab people, throwing the pencils, hitting kids, and kicking kids,” says mother Vickie Deso, recounting what her son witnessed on the bus.

10News WTSP’s questions about the violent outburst on the school bus has one school board member vowing to look into the situation.

10News has learned from a parent that the same aggressive child threatened more kids in school Monday.  A concerned mom at Chocachatti Elementary tells 10News that a fifth-grader threatened her daughter, pushed another boy, and attacked a teacher.

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This, follows the violence on the school bus that's now prompting parents to demand change from the district.

“My kids had to sit there for 50 minutes in terror,” says Deso.

It was a traumatic ride home from Chocachatti Elementary for Deso's  5- and 8-year-old sons and a bus load of other kids.  According to the driver's statement, a fifth-grader lashed out punching a third-grade girl, giving her a bloody nose.

Click here to read driver's report of incidents  on bus

“The student needed help, and deputies should've been called to protect those other 60 other kids on a school bus,” Deso says.

The driver goes on to say she radioed dispatch.  She says the student then got aggressive, threatening her and punching a girl in the face.

The driver says called the transportation department again asking for help from the sheriff's office.  She says was told to sit tight, the boy's grandmother was coming to pick him up.  In that time, the boy kicked and punched 3 other kids.  Twenty minutes later, the driver called again, pleading for a deputy.

“They don't call the deputy, because this child is out-of-control, that's wrong,” says Deso.

School district spokeswoman Karen Jordan refused 10News’ request for an on-camera interview and says the camera on the bus wasn't working.

District policy states: "if a student's behavior jeopardizes the safety of others on the bus, law enforcement may be contacted by the driver or Transportation Department"

It was finally the school who contacted deputies the next day.  The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office refused to give 10News the incident report, citing confidentiality.  10News obtained the report from a source that shows the boy is autistic.

“I'm a little concerned, if they're not going to change how they do things,” says Deso.

So will the policy change?  In a statement, Jordan tells 10News, “School districts keep the safety of all students as their primary concern. Hernando County is no exception. However, with every new scenario, we learn and get better. If there are opportunities to refine and improve our process, they will be applied following careful review.”

Click here to read Hernando code of conduct for students on bus

10News pressed Jordan who would do the review -- the superintendent, the school board or the transportation department?  Jordan said she’d given her complete statement.

We checked other districts' policies on bus drivers calling 911 and uncovered:

In Hillsborough: Drivers can call 911 directly, but not all drivers have a cell phone.  Our policy is that they contact our dispatch so that the driver can handle the situation on the bus while dispatch calls for law enforcement or EMS (whatever is needed in the situation).

In Manatee: Bus operators are instructed to contact dispatch on all emergencies.  If there is an event, where the bus operator cannot contact dispatchers, the bus operator is instructed to call 911 immediately.  A bus operator may call 911 without violating policy.  Bus operators are instructed to err  on the side of safety of the children.

In Pinellas: If the school bus is in motion, the school bus driver should use the two-way radio to talk to dispatch to call 911.  If the situation is severe, the driver should pull over as soon as possible and they can call 911 directly, and they should also use the two-way radio to communicate with dispatch so that the transportation department can assist in any way possible.  There are so many factors during an emergency and the safety of all involved should be considered.  If a driver is driving the bus and talking on the phone to 911, there could be many distractions.  This is why it is best to use to the two way radio if the school bus is in motion. 

In Polk:  We have a reference manual for certain situations that could take place on the bus, and the manual gives the drivers steps to follow. However, we have also informed our drivers based on the situation that they can call 911 directly if it is serious enough or they can call dispatch and dispatch can call 911. We allow the driver to make the decision based on the seriousness of the event.