YORK — Three parents whose children rode the York school bus where a 12-year-old girl was dragged by the hair and hit in the head last month say school officials did not sufficiently address reports of bullying on the bus before the assault.
Nicole Seaford, whose daughter was the victim in a Dec. 13 incident in which another 12-year-old girl was charged with assault, gave an impassioned speech to the school board about bullying last week.
Seaford, whose daughter is a student at York Middle School, asked the board to enact policy changes to protect students from bullying.
After Seaford spoke for several minutes, board chairwoman Betty Johnson stopped her, saying her time to speak was limited to five minutes under board policy.
Several parents at the meeting angrily jeered at the board and loudly objected when Johnson implemented the five-minute limit.
“That’s awfully rude,” one woman shouted at the board.
Johnson and other board members defended the time limit, however, saying they need ample time to consider all issues. Johnson said Seaford had been told about the limit in advance.
Seaford told board members that district employees had been told about “a lack of control” on the school bus where her daughter was assaulted before the incident. She said one other parent “had four meetings at school about bullies and the lack of control on the bus.”
After the board meeting, two other parents who did not attend the meeting, but whose children rode the same bus as Seaford’s daughter, told the Enquirer-Herald that they had complained about problems on the bus to school employees before the assault.
In her address to the board, Seaford also alleged that school resource officers had been discouraged by school authorities from filing police reports that would document the complaints by parents.
“I have heard horror story after horror story after this has happened to my daughter,” Seaford told the board, referring to other reports of bullying.
Superintendent Vernon Prosser said after the meeting that the school district has already begun to make changes in response to the incident.
“There are some things we can do differently,” he said. He said one change is more stringent rules to expel students from riding a school bus after they assault another student.
‘Opportunity to stop it’
Seaford said after the meeting that school officials should have looked at the video tape on the school bus where her daughter was assaulted when they began to receive reports about discipline problems.
“They had plenty of opportunity to stop it before it happened if they had listened to parents,” Seaford said.
Seaford added: “That’s my biggest problem. You (school officials) did know it was going on, but you didn’t do due diligence to look at a video tape,” she said.
She also said student expulsion from a school bus should be effective immediately. Seaford alleged the aggressor in her daughter’s assault was eventually expelled from the bus for bad conduct, but was allowed to ride it home one last day on Dec. 13, the day her daughter was assaulted.
The names of the students involved were not listed on the police report because they are minors.
Prosser said the district takes reports of bullying seriously.
“Our administration and counselors take every report seriously,” Prosser said. “We try to do the best we can with the resources we have.”
Michael Thompson, whose three daughters rode the same bus as Seaford’s daughter, said he had complained to school officials on numerous occasions over several months after his oldest daughter, 14, was harassed on the bus. He said the harassment began in September.
“I called the school once or twice a week toward the end of September,” said Thompson, who said he spoke with a guidance counselor and an assistant principal. “It seemed like nothing was getting done. They kept reassuring me that everything would be fine.”
Thompson said he had four meetings with the counselor and assistant principal at the school about the situation, and he also complained to the district office. He said the bus driver was not reporting misconduct on the bus.
He said his daughter was thrown off the bus in December for two weeks for using “choice phrases” and arguing with another student after she was hit on the head with a bottle that was thrown by that student.
“They didn’t take it seriously early enough,” Thompson said of school officials. “It was almost as if they wanted to help, but their hands are tied behind their back. I feel like the district hasn’t taken proactive steps.”
Michael Ashe, whose two daughters ride the same bus, said he spoke with the bus driver and transportation manager after his daughter was involved in a shoving incident on the bus with another student.
Both the driver and transportation manager said they were not aware of the problem, Ashe said.
“The bus driver was never writing anybody up or caring what was going on,” Ashe said. “Both my daughters told me things like that happened on the bus all the time and nobody was ever reporting it.”
Ashe said the bus now has a different driver.
Prosser said the school district has received a grant to train employees using a national bullying prevention program called Olweus. Prosser said the first group of employees to be trained will be school bus drivers.
Video shows Dec. 13 incident
After the Dec. 13 incident, a 12-year-old girl was arrested on Christmas Eve, charged with third-degree assault and battery and interfering with the operation of a school bus, according to police.
Police reviewed video footage which showed the victim was hit in the head repeatedly and dragged by her hair along the aisle of the bus by another student. The bus was transporting students home from school.
According to the report, both girls were talking about the victim’s boots when the suspect pulled the victim’s hair and began to punch her. After the victim fell on the floor, the suspect continued to hit the girl in the face and head, the report states.
The fighting eventually stopped after the suspect’s sister told her to quit hitting the victim. The sisters then went to the back of the bus, according to the report.
The suspect’s sister was charged with interference with the operation of a school bus and will be punished by school administrators, police say.
The victim was taken to Steele Creek Health Pavilion in Charlotte after she got home and told her parents about the incident. She suffered from bruises, a swollen eye and a small cut.
Seaford said her daughter is no longer riding the school bus and is taking self defense training.
Jennifer Becknell • 803-329-4077