Troubleshooters: More than 30 JCPS bus drivers have left their position since first day

The number is three times what the district had said in weeks past.
Updated: Sep. 26, 2023 at 6:00 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The number of JCPS bus drivers who have left their positions is more than 30, WAVE News Troubleshooters have learned.

The number is three times what the district had said in weeks past.

According to information obtained through open records requests, the district said 14 bus drivers have resigned since the first day of school through Sept. 14.

When WAVE Troubleshooters rephrased the question to include the number of drivers who had retired, taken leave, or transferred from their position, the number became 33.

The excitement of the first day of school was overshadowed this year when some students didn’t get home until nearly 10 p.m.

Nearly two months in, the headlines haven’t stopped.

“They don’t want us talking to the media,” JCPS bus driver Misty Meredith said. “They don’t want us to get out what’s really going on.”

Troubleshooters offered Meredith to hide her identity for fear she’d lose her job.

She declined.

“If I didn’t say anything and bring the situation to light, and something horrible was to happen, because if things don’t change, it’s going to, I would never forgive myself,” Meredith said.

The public has heard some of the problems, like the overcrowding on buses, fights, an incident with pepper spray and a shooting that took place as soon as kids got off a school bus.

The district has tried to distance itself from that crime, but through multiple sources, Troubleshooters learned it was their bus driver who let the kids out away from their usual stop because of a group of suspicious people.

Here’s what Meredith said doesn’t make the headlines.

“I hear it on the radio all day long,” she said. “‘They’re fighting again.’ ‘I can’t move this bus.’ ‘I’m on the highway.’ ‘A fight just broke up.’ ‘They’re jumping out the emergency exists. Just complete chaos.’ ‘Complete chaos.’”

Videos of fights like Meredith described are all over social media, in some videos the bus is moving.

“It is hard to hold your bus on the road while you’re doing that,” she explained. “We’re constantly scanning our mirrors the whole time we’re driving. We don’t have time to look up at the back to find out why you want to cuss me out, or who you’re fighting, you know?”

According to JCPS policy, students can be suspended off a bus or be removed permanently.

On paper, bus drivers can write referrals, but Meredith said drivers were instructed to stop writing them. And when they did, nothing happened.

“My boss had copies, but they were never turned into the school,” she said. “Because they know there’s a problem and everyone’s being told to ignore it. As if it’s going to go away.”

WAVE Troubleshooters submitted open records requests to see the numbers for bus referrals and suspensions for the last two school years, 2021-2022 and 2022-2023.

We zeroed in on fighting and striking a student or staff. The total number of referrals for both school years was 6,165, but they only resulted in 2,034 bus suspensions.

The disparity was even greater when we looked at other categories like horseplay with 4,242 referrals, resulting in 844 suspensions. Failing to remain seated included 7,044 referrals compared to 1,104 bus suspensions.

This year, the district changed its policy, allowing for students to be suspended off the bus for up to 10 days without district approval.

JCPS told us bus drivers are encouraged to write referrals anytime a student acts in a way that distracts the driver, could be a safety concern or impacts the well-being of other students, the district’s Communications Director Carolyn Callahan said.

“A referral is sent to the bus compound coordinator who reviews the referral and decides whether to send it to administrators of the child’s school to determine what disciplinary action, if any, should be taken,” Callahan said.

Even so, Meredith said the students would eventually return on the bus.

“When I tell you that these girls were getting stepped on, kicked in their faces,” she recalled as describing a recent bus fight. “There was one girl that literally had a foot on her face, and she was pushed up against the window. They were climbing over the seats, and there was no control. There was nothing we could do to get that under control.”

“Discipline is why we are in the situation we are in right now,” Meredith said.

“Do you think that’s what’s led bus drivers to quit?” she was asked.

“Absolutely. Absolutely,” she replied. “They don’t care if we all quit. Because at the end, I feel like the ultimate result is to do away with transportation anyway.”

That’s something Superintendent Marty Pollio mentioned in a recent interview on WHAS Radio while talking about other cities.

“We’ve got some real difficult questions to answer nationally about transportation for students to go to school,” Pollio said.

“If you look at the big picture, the writing is right there on the wall,” Meredith said.

In the meantime, Meredith hopes to drive this message.

“That’s the problem,” she said. “That it’s probably going to take something catastrophic for them to realize that there is a problem.”

Troubleshooters asked JCPS what drivers are supposed to do if there is a fight on their bus.

“If there is a fight on a school bus, drivers are required to project their voices and tell the students to stop,” a JCPS Spokesperson said. “Drivers must make a verbal effort to get the students to stop, they cannot ignore the situation. Drivers should pull over in a safe location and contact the compound to report the fight. The compound will call the police, if needed. Drivers are not required to get into the middle of a fight. They have the right to protect themselves by stepping back, never forward. Drivers should never put their hands on students. The Pupil Behavior Management chapter we teach out of the KDE manual does not give specific commands for drivers in situations where a fight has broken out.”