An Olympia School District (OSD) bus driver in Washington state has been placed on leave after surveillance video caught him bullying a special needs student.
Mariah Clevenger had complained for over a year about her bus driver’s verbal abuse. However, her mother, Louanne Bay, and family were not sure what to believe because of Mariah’s developmental disability. Bay told KING 5, "She says ‘Mommy, he's mean to me. He says things.’ And I'm like ‘Mariah, you know what, just go into your room. Take a breath. Go do something.’ I'm thinking she doesn't want to follow directions.”
The student’s claims were apparently confirmed during a recent incident caught on camera. As reported by The Olympian, on April 17 Washington Middle School administrators showed Clevenger’s mother, a video taken on the bus earlier that day. The footage allegedly captured the bus driver’s verbal abuse and threats.
Ms. Bay told KING, “The bus driver's supervisor let me see the video and it was hard. I started to cry when the bus driver was laughing saying he was going to bring a bee hive on the bus.” Just days earlier 14-year-old Mariah was so scared of a bee on the bus that she refused to ride home, notes KIRO 7. The mother also heard the driver tell Mariah, “Be quiet. You always complain, you maniac.”
Mariah, a developmentally delayed teen is in 8th grade but is cognitively at a 4th grade level. When KIRO spoke to her about the beehive incident she said she was still, “thinking about the picture in my mind about how many bees would have killed me.”
Bay witnessed further alarming behavior by the bus driver on the surveillance video. "Actually encouraging her peer students to bully her and then just laughing about it,” said Bay. “I felt heartbroken like, who can I trust.”
KIRO asked Mariah about past exchanges with the bus driver and she recalled that he said, “’I’m going to hit you. I’m going to kick you off my bus.’…He was saying that I was stupid, or dumb, something like that. One of those words.” The 40-second clip of surveillance video Ms. Bay viewed did not contain those particular comments but the mother worries that there could be countless other incidents of verbal abuse. The station notes that both Ms. Bay and her daughter say the bus driver has never touched the student.
Bay told The Olympian that her request for a copy of the surveillance video or a transcript of the driver’s statements on the video was denied. KIRO’s request for the footage was also denied.
“She’s been telling people she’s scared. How much of this is coming from him abusing her and that’s why she’s not going to school,” said a concerned Bay.
Rebecca Japhet, an OSD spokeswoman emailed this statement to The Olympian:
“The district is treating this matter very seriously. We learned about the inappropriate verbal exchanges last week and immediately put the driver on leave. The district is now conducting an investigation. In the meantime, staff is committed to working with this family to ensure the student feels safe and supported on her way to school, at school and on the way home from school."
OSD has promised that regardless of the outcome, Mariah will no longer have to ride the bus with that driver.