DENVER (CBS4) – An advocate for minority families says racial disparity is one reason why a violent fight broke out between a mother and a para professional on a school bus. It happened last Wednesday.
The bus driver pulled the bus over twice for unruly students. The second time, parents tried getting their screaming children off of the bus. Employees wouldn’t allow the students to get off.
One mother, Brandi Martin, jumped on board and fought with the employee. Martin now faces assault charges.
The Denver Public School District says the employees should have handled the situation differently.
Activists hope everyone can learn from the situation.
“There is a deep need inside of DPS to make sure that the adults that are dealing with the children are culturally competent and have been implicitly-biased trained,” said H-Soul Ashemu, a spokesman for Our Voice Our Schools. “The failures that happened happened before this incident. What we are seeing is the result of those failures.”
The school district’s safety experts are looking at footage from the bus camera. The driver and para are on leave.
Superintendent Susana Cordova sent the following letter home to Denver Green School parents:
Sept. 24, 2019
Dear DGS Northfield Families:
There’s nothing more upsetting to me than feeling like we let our families down in caring for their children. And I’m very upset by the way last week’s bus incident was handled. Every school day, we transport thousands of students on hundreds of DPS buses. Our Student Transportation team strives to provide high-quality service to our community and is a critical part of the work we do to support our students. In providing this service, we focus on creating a safe environment for students to go to and from school. However, it is clear to me that in looking at an incident that happened last week, with students riding our school bus home from school, we fell far short of our standards in caring for our children.
I have reviewed our internal video taken from inside the bus as it was taking students home after school on Wednesday. An investigation is still underway, but it’s clear this situation never should have escalated to the point that it did. Our bus aide was on the back of the bus talking to a small group of students about behavior that the aide felt was too loud and disruptive. That conversation escalated to the point where students were texting their parents with concerns about the situation. And it’s distressing to me that it reached that point. Our district has embraced trauma-informed practices to guide our work, and that means that we want to focus on de-escalating situations in a culturally responsive way and support students through care and understanding. This didn’t happen, and that is not consistent with our values. We did not effectively de-escalate this situation, and, as a result, the DGS students and parents experienced a traumatic event when students were not released quickly enough from the bus and a staff member was injured in a resulting physical altercation.
The most upsetting part of the incident to me is hearing our students crying out in distress. As a school district, we take seriously the responsibility of watching out for our students, any time they’re in our care. In normal circumstances, district staff—including transportation personnel—do not release students to parents unless the normal procedures are followed, to ensure the students’ safety and that they are being released to a parent or guardian. Given that this incident had escalated to the point that it did, with children crying to be allowed off the bus to leave with their parents, the action that was taken only further escalated the situation. And I’m very sorry that it happened.
We will increase and strengthen our training for our transportation staff around de-escalation strategies. I very much appreciate the support and care that Kartal and the DGS-Northfield team have provided to your students and families. My team and I will be doing additional outreach to all families who had students who were on the bus. There will also be an opportunity for families to talk with me and district staff directly during your school’s Cultural Festival on Thursday evening, Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. I will be hosting a meeting just for DGS-Northfield families to talk about this incident and to hear your feedback. It will take place in the Upper Library at the conclusion of the festival. DGS staff will direct bus-riding families to this location at the conclusion of Culture Festival.
We also are continuing to do a thorough review of the incident and how we responded, to make sure we are taking whatever steps we can to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Again, I regret that in this instance, we fell short of the high standards we have for the care we provide to our students. I welcome your feedback and am committed to working to repair the trauma that resulted from this incident.