Bus company on assault: 'The system failed'

8:17 PM, Oct 13, 2012   |    comments
Signs lined the streets of Galesburg Friday, following the alleged assault of a boy on a school bus. Photo courtesy: Battle Creek Enquirer
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GALESBURG, Mich. (Battle Creek Enquirer) - Some are calling for the ouster of the Galesburg-Augusta Community Schools superintendent over the alleged assault of a boy on a school bus, as the contracted bus company says failsafes that could have prevented the assault were ignored.

On Friday, two days after a transportation supervisor allegedly slammed a 7-year-old boy against a school bus window on the ride home from school, signs dotted this Kalamazoo County community urging the school to protect kids, damning the district's summer decision to privatize busing and calling for Superintendent Tim Vagts to be fired.

Efforts to reach Vagts for comment on Friday were unsuccessful. A brief district statement released Thursday said "student safety is our paramount concern."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Auxilio Services, the Cincinnati company Galesburg hired this summer for busing, said Friday that his employees asked for the boy to be removed from the bus Wednesday afternoon, before the bus ever left the school. Ed Dollin said a school official denied those requests because the parents could not be reached. He said no one at the district had accurate phone numbers for the family.

He said the supervisor was put on the bus Wednesday by Auxilio's regional manager after several bus aides were unable to calm the "rambunctious child," and that the district hadn't answered Auxilio's requests to form a committee of company officials, school officials and parents to discuss bus safety and behavior issues.

"The system that's in place failed," Dollin said.

Dollin said the transportation supervisor, a Galesburg woman whom he refused to identify, was fired.

Galesburg Board of Education minutes from Aug. 20 show that Dollin gave an update to the board indicating that Heidi Mullin had been hired as transportation manager for the district. The Enquirer was unable to reach Mullin on Friday.

The boy's mother contacted the Galesburg Police Department Wednesday evening and police began investigating Thursday. A five-second video posted to Facebook, apparently shot with a cell phone on the bus, shows a woman slamming a child into the bus window before loudly ordering him to sit down.

Police have not released the name of the mother or the boy.

But Dollin said that brief video does not tell the whole story. He said a longer video shows the woman going through "45 minutes of hell" as the child taunted her, putting his coat over her head, before "emotion got to her, she let the child get the better of her."

Still, Dollin said Auxilio employees are trained to never touch the children and to pull over and call police if things get out of hand. He said he was sorry that the incident happened and "we do not absolve ourselves of any of this. We take the blame."

"She acted wrong," Dollin said. "She was a manager. She was professional. She knew what to do ... This shouldn't have happened, shouldn't have happened, shouldn't have happened."

Dollin said his company is working with Galesburg-Augusta and he said "they want us to stay" as transportation providers. He said employees would be retrained on how to handle difficult children.

But residents might have other thoughts. A sign along West Battle Creek Street, just outside the district's bus garage, read: "We said no to new bus drivers. Now look." Above, a small sign reads, "Fire Tim Vagts."

The sign sits just outside the home of Lacey Green, a 29-year mother with three students - an 8-year-old and two 5-year-olds - in Galesburg schools. She said she agreed Vagts should be fired and criminal charges should be filed against the transportation supervisor. She said "nothing like that ever happened when we had our own bus drivers."

"If any parent did that, (Child Protective Services) would be called in a heartbeat," Green said Friday at her home. "When you're in a professional position, you shouldn't snap like that."

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