The kids are still stifling and parents are steaming — all over a bus driver’s refusal to let Hancock Middle School students open their windows and a school system’s insistence on backing her, the parents say.
Hancock County School Superintendent Alan Dedeaux says he’s trying to work out the problem of steamy school bus No. 709. In the afternoons, parents say their children are covered in sweat when they get off the bus. The bus has two air conditioners but the back half does not cool off, the children say.
It turns out, parents had the same complaint last year. All they want is for their children to be able to open windows in the back of the bus so the air circulates. Students are allowed to put their windows down on some buses. Dedeaux said it’s up to the driver.
The driver of No. 709, known as Ms. Kat, often drives with her own window open. The parents have photographs. She has a fan near her seat, too. But Ms. Kat, whose last name Dedeaux said he could not release, refuses to let students put down their windows.
Two mothers, Sheree Abbott and Lana Marquar Bowley, say Ms. Kat pulls the bus off the road when a student opens a window and refuses to move until it’s closed.
Bowley said her daughter came home a week ago with her hair in wet ringlets. Bowley had straightened her daughter’s hair just that morning.
“She said it’s stifling,” Bowley told the Sun Herald. “She said there’s no air flow. She says after being on the bus a few minutes, you feel like you can’t breathe.
“The AC can’t cool them off to get a breath of fresh air, so they want to put a few windows down.” Her daughter’s “no snowflake,” she said. The seventh-grader plays soccer in the heat without complaint.
Abbott met last year with the bus driver, director of transportation Mike Ladner and the school’s principal.
She can’t believe the issue remains unresolved.
“Last year, when my son and daughter were both getting off the bus, my daughter’s face was blood red,” she said. “My son’s butt was soaking wet.
“It’s just a little ridiculous to think these kids are sitting in dead heat with no circulation whatsoever. We are concerned with their safety with heat exhaustion on the bus.”
Abbott said her son is now in high school, but her daughter still rides No. 709.
Ladner climbed aboard the bus Wednesday and gave the kids a lecture, caught on videotape, about the heat and the bus windows. He said at one point that if the students put their windows down, they needed to close the windows before leaving the bus, or they would be written up.
Some children, including Abbott’s daughter, took that as permission to put down their windows. Abbott got a call from her daughter Friday afternoon, after Dedeaux implemented his solution of having the bus arrive 10 minutes early to cool off before the engine had to be shut down for the children to board.
The girl told her mom she was hot and asked if she could put her window down since Ladner said it would be OK. Her mom said yes. Abbott said Ms. Kat immediately pulled the bus over and insisted her daughter raise the window. Her mom, still on the phone, told the girl she didn’t have to raise the window.
Ms. Kat moved the girl to the front of the bus and said she would be written up Monday, Abbott said.
“My kids have never been in trouble before,” Abbott said. “I’m going to stay on top of it. I need to make sure these kids don’t pass out.”
Bowley said her daughter had to catch the bus Monday afternoon. She told her mom they had a substitute driver and a different bus with cool air.
"We weren't even asking for another bus," she said. "We just want them to be able to put the windows down."
Dedeaux said these situations just take time to resolve. He said he is even thinking of telling the driver she will need to let the students put their windows down. But he wasn’t sure Monday whether he plans to do that.
“We want that bus driver to have control on that bus and make good, good decisions,” he said.