She says they made fun of her age.
She says they ridiculed her voice.
She says they parroted her.
She says some even cursed her.
On a sunny day in November around 3 p.m., Rocky Face resident Cynthia Hall reached her breaking point. While driving students home from Dalton Middle School, the rowdy children became too much for Hall — a bus driver for First Student — to take.
So she pulled the bus over at the corner of Calhoun Street and South Glenwood Avenue and began lecturing the students about their perceived rambunctious behavior. When her discourse fell on some deaf ears, she radioed the local First Student dispatch center and eventually requested help from police.
Two officers from the Dalton Police Department responded. In a bus camera video that gained national media attention after being posted to The Daily Citizen’s website, the officers cursed several times at the students before leaving. The students continued to misbehave after the officers left, in Hall’s opinion.
The officers — Steve Collins and John Gurrieri — were suspended for two days without pay, required to complete 40 hours of service at local youth programs, received a written report in their personnel file and were ordered to undergo more verbal communication training, police officials said.
Hall didn’t get off as easy.
She was fired the next day, she said.
Hall said First Student — the transportation company used by Dalton Public Schools — fired her for requesting help from the police to handle students she felt were “out of control.”
In retrospect, Hall said Friday she “maybe could have swallowed my pride” when telling students to “shut up” in the video, but that the students “have been getting my goat so long I wasn’t about to back down.”
“I’m not perfect. I make mistakes,” she said. “I have a mouth that won’t stop sometimes and I get in trouble for it. But, you know, you just — you just don’t know what it can be like. You’d have to be a bus driver.”
Anita Brown, the local First Student location manager who was in charge of Hall, wouldn’t discuss the situation with a reporter last week and directed questions to First Student’s corporate office.
Jennifer Biddinger, spokeswoman for First Student, confirmed in an email that Hall was no longer employed by First Student. Asked if she had been fired, Biddinger wrote that company policy prohibits her from releasing personnel information.
Hall said she is ultimately less concerned with what Gurrieri said and more concerned about what her firing says about the lack of support for bus drivers from First Student administrators.
She added she “didn’t want her job back” and wanted to let people know how “out of control” buses can be to help other bus drivers seek changes to bus policies.
Kids being kids or crossing the line?
The Nov. 11 video shows some students repeating Hall and laughing at her. None of the students in the video leave their seats, unless being directed by officers. Some stand up for a few seconds at a time or turn around in their seats.
Hall said several of the students were “screaming and hollering,” adding that she believes the camera’s placement on the front of the bus amplifies her voice in the video and doesn’t give a full picture of how students sounded when they shouted from the back of the bus.
Dalton Public Schools officials said they reviewed the video and didn’t see any punishable behavior from students.
“Dalton Public Schools believes that students are given the privilege of riding the bus each day. It is not a right,” Pat Holloway, city schools spokeswoman, said in an email. “We take any reports of student misconduct on the bus seriously and handle any reports of disciplinary issues immediately. Our school administrators are responsible for working closely with First Student drivers to investigate any situation that is reported.
“We have an excellent relationship with our First Student drivers, many of whom have been transporting our students for a number of years. We understand the challenging job that bus drivers have and work hard to support them as they do their job of getting students to school and home each day.”
Hall said she believes the school system handles most problems or incidents appropriately. First Student doesn’t always do a good job reporting bad behavior, she said.
Ignoring bad behavior?
Hall said the video isn’t the worst behavior she’s seen, adding that most First Student buses struggle with a group of disrespectful students even if most passengers are well-behaved.
Most drivers, she said, just put up with bad or distracting behavior because they feel any reports would be ignored or never make it from First Student to the school system.
“We’re told (by the local First Student office) to ignore it and go on,” she said. “We are expected to take it, take everything that’s dished out on us, and go on with a smile. ... What’s a driver to do? They (certain students) have a way of doing things. I took their abuse for a long time.”
Hall said there should be more policies in place so bus drivers aren’t “subjected” to harassment from students or put in a situation where they could lose their job from a lack of guidelines.
She added that she only requested police after a First Student dispatcher recommended the idea because staff was “shorthanded” and couldn’t assist.
“Dispatch made that call to the police,” she said. “I feel bad that they (students) had to hear that, especially my girls. But I wasn’t on the bus. I was outside. ... I was getting where I really couldn’t take it anymore.”
‘You just don’t know what it can be like’
She says they made fun of her age.
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