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JUST DRIVE: Parents and bus drivers pose questions on safety aboard FWCS buses

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne’s NBC) – Several Fort Wayne Community School parents and drivers have come forward, questioning whether kids and drivers are safe on the school bus.

One of those bus drivers is Jennifer O’Herron, she’s been driving for more than 6 years.

She claims the largest school district in the state is putting its image ahead of student safety.

O’Herron recently came under scrutiny by district administrators.

She says it’s for voicing concerns about what she sees as escalating violence aboard buses, and policies she feels leaves bus drivers powerless to stop it.

O’Herron says for more than a year she has tried to warn her superiors of her concerns, but says their response has been “just drive.”

It’s a policy she believes puts both children and drivers in danger.

In a police report, O’Herron told officers a boy on her bus was threatened by 3 or 4 other students.

“They’re not ensuring the safety of our children under any circumstance. Would I be picking him up out of the middle of the street, that was my biggest concern,” said the mother of a bullied student.

Fort Wayne’s NBC requested the bus scanner audio from FWCS hoping to see what O’Herron was referring to.

However, the bus scanner traffic we obtained from the day of O’Herron’s incident revealed a flaw in the way FWCS records school bus incidents.

A district spokesperson sent us an e-mail saying, while pulling the tape, the district realized an issue with the recording system.

Only the dispatcher can be heard on even numbered buses. The drivers can only be heard every now and then, with poor quality, but most times not at all.

O’Herron says her incident is one of several leading her to question bus security.

She says it represents a bigger problem, that the system isn’t empowering drivers. Rather, it’s sweeping problems under the rug.

“They bully you to silence, they push you to get on a bus and shut up and drive it,” said O’Herron.

Julie Logsdon was a supervisor for FWCS buses for two years, and a bus driver for many more before that.

Logsdon too says the mentality of “just drive” is present.

“He yelled at me in front of 6 people to take this route, shut up and go drive it,” said Logsdon.

Charles Cammack, Jr. the Chief Operations Officer for FWCS says he doesn’t understand what both Logsdon and O’Herron are referring to.

“There is no policy that tells drivers to shut up and drive. If there is a threat or they feel uncomfortable they should report it,” said Cammack, Jr.

Logsdon tells Fort Wayne’s NBC that she feels FWCS needs to to a better job at ensuring safety on board the bus.”If Fort Wayne parents had any idea how many weapons they were pulling off of these buses, they would never let their kids ride,” said Logsdon.

Bus drivers we spoke with tell us they fear for their jobs if they speak out, but Cammack, Jr. says they shouldn’t be fearful.

“I have no idea. They haven’t expressed that to me. I supervise transportation, my door is always open. If people tell the truth and they are trying to do the best for kids they don’t need to fear for their jobs,” said Cammack, Jr.

O’Herron’s incident isn’t isolated, in late February Fort Wayne’s NBC discovered a student at Northrup High School got off a school bus and started firing a weapon.

Nobody was hurt, but it clearly posed a risk to the safety of other students and staff.

Numbers that FWCS gave us show that from 2017 to 2019 there were 2,471 incidents categorized as serious. Then from 2018 to 2019 that number dropped to 2,261.

“I don’t see that we have an epidemic going on. Probably we do a better job than other districts,” said Cammack, Jr.

Officials with FWCS do admit that there are areas to improve on, and say they’re always investigating new methods and training for drivers.

“I think we have what we typically have which is everybody isn’t always happy with how issues get resolved, or we have issues we need to address because children don’t always behave the way we have them to. To be honest with you adults don’t always behave the way we want them to either,” said Cammack Jr.

Though the numbers are down in serious incidents, according to the district’s figures, O’Herron believes more needs to be done.

“I felt like I was coaching myself. I am showing up for them. I’m showing for my kids, and I keep having to say that to myself. I’m showing up for these kids,” O’Herron continued by saying, “But, I love them enough to fight for them.”

O’Herron has gone without pay for 41 days and had all of her employee benefits and insurance cut off, but still has yet to receive her official termination papers.

Fort Wayne’s NBC is working to get numbers from surrounding districts to see how FWCS compares on serious incidents.

Kaitlyn Kendall

Kaitlyn Kendall anchors ABC21 news at 5 and is the chief investigative reporter for the stations Digging Deeper team.

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