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Surry Bus Driver Placed on Leave After Duct-Tape Incident
11/15/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

A Maine school bus driver who allegedly forced students to wear duct tape over their mouths for being too loud has been placed on administrative leave by her employer, pending an investigation. The driver works for First Student Incorporated, which handles busing for Surry Elementary School. As Jay Field reports, the alleged misconduct came to light one morning last week, after drop-off time at Surry.

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Surry Bus Driver Placed on Leave
Originally Aired: 11/15/2013 5:30 PM

Cathy Lewis is principal at Surry Elementary, and every morning, Lewis heads out to greet her students as they get off the bus. She also chats up the bus drivers. She says drivers often tell her if a particular child had a tough ride in and may be having some kind of problem.

One morning last week, two fourth grade girls came to Lewis, shortly after exiting the bus. "Something had happened on the bus that wasn't fair," Lewis says. And I said, 'What was that?'"

The problem wasn't the other kids on the bus. It was the driver. "We weren't making the most noise," the girls told Lewis.

"And we were the ones who were going to have to have duct tape on our mouths," Lewis recalls them saying. "And I said, 'What?'"

Lewis says her students are pretty well behaved. She says she's never heard noise complaints from any of the drivers, and has no reason to believe that her kids are any louder than any other kids riding around Maine on school buses.

"So it's highly unusual to have a bus issue come to light in that way," Lewis says. "But when they said, 'duct tape,' I said, 'Wait! Wait! Wait! Back up. Talk to me a little bit about the duct tape.' 'Well, it's Hello Kitty Duct Tape and if we're making too much noise, if goes on our mouths.'"

Lewis asked the girls toput their account in writing. Roughly 20 percent of school busing in Maine is handled by outside contractors. First Student, which has the contract in Surry, is one of the largest providers of busing services in the country. The company has been operating in Maine for more than a decade, and has also run buses for schools in Bucksport, Orrington, Damariscotta and Newcastle.

After taking the written statements, Lewis called up a supervisor at the company. "First Student was as appalled as I was," she says. "I said to her, 'Will you please investigate this for me?'"

Lewis then called her superintendent in School Union 93. Mark Hurvitt followed up with his own call to First Student, "to follow up," Hurvitt says, "and basically told First Student that we can't be employing this bus driver in the town of Surry any more."

A call and e-mail to First Student seeking comment for this story were not returned by airtime. But according to Hurvitt, the driver of the bus has been placed on administrative leave, while the company investigates the incident.

"I don't think it's as draconian as lining up kids and taping their mouths shut so they would be quiet on the bus," he says. "But she was encouraging kids to put that over their mouths to sort of quiet down the bus."

In a note, posted on the Surry Elementary School Web site, Cathy Lewis writes: "I do not think the intent was to hurt or embarrass anyone, but it was an error in judgment on the part of someone entrusted to take care of the kids. As a result, we will have a new bus driver for bus B."


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