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NewsEducation

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Parents: Bus Driver Terrifying, Response ‘Reprehensible’

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By James Lomuscio

WestportNow.com Image
Parent Jarrett Liotta addresses the Board of Education Monday night.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Photo from Board of Education video

The school bus driver used profanity, talked about his sex life and told students aboard Bus 16 heading to Westport’s Coleytown Middle School (CMS) Thursday morning, Oct. 18, that they should be having sex, too, an upset father said today.

“This is an atrocity,“said Jarrett Liotta, whose daughter was on the bus.

Liotta was one of several parents critical of how the school administration handled the matter who spoke before the Board of Education Monday night, the opening day of National School Bus Safety Week.

He singled out Sandra Evangelista, the school system’s transportation coordinator, for the “school system’s failure to respond,” resulting in the same bus driver arriving to pick up the children at the end of the school day. He also criticized Evangelista for failing to answer two of his previous calls and emails on unrelated matters.

“What followed was a nightmare for these kids,” Liotta told the school board, noting, as did three other parents, that the driver had become so verbally abusive on the return trip that children fled the bus at earlier stops.

Today, Liotta targeted much of his anger not only at the bus driver and Evangelista, but Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon who came to Evangelista’s defense at the meeting. Landon had dismissed Liotta’s claims that Evangelista does not return phone calls as “an exaggeration of truth.”

“My child and other children were bullied by the bus driver, and when I go to the Board of Education to talk about this, I get bullied by the Superintendent of Schools,” said Liotta, a writer and contributor to the Westport News and graduate of Staples High School.

Landon did not return calls today, and Jim Marpe, acting school board chairman, would only say is that the matter is being investigated by the police department and the school board. When reached, Evangelista declined to comment, referring all comments to Landon.

Last week, some of the children upon arriving at school complained about the bus driver to CMS Principal Kris Szabo, according to parents. Szabo made two phone calls to Evangelista, who in turn called the Dattco Bus Company.

However, Dattco did not take the bus driver, known only as Daniel since school officials and police will not release his last name, off the afternoon run. According to one school official, the driver had apparently been spoken to by his supervisor, and was angry when he picked up the children at the end of the school day.

“He used the F-word and made comments about how he could wipe up the floor with them,” Liotta said, adding that the sixth through eighth grade boys and girls “were traumatized.”

“These kids were crying when they came of the bus,” he added.

Liotta said he has spoken to Dattco, “and they said he would not be driving again.”  Liotta also had kind words for Szabo. He said he did not fault her for making sure the driver was not on the afternoon run “since she has hundreds of students to look after.”

But he remained critical of Evangelista.

“I find it reprehensible that Sandra Evangelista, your coordinator of transportation, did not do everything in her power to make sure that this man would not be driving that afternoon bus run,” Liotta told the board.

“Despite the fact that in her words this was only the second time in her nine years on the job that she’s ever fielded a complaint of sexual impropriety, one that came from a school principal. She made only one phone call and did not follow up.”

Marpe called a point of order, saying, “We cannot allow commentary on an individual to be taking place as you’re doing it that is unsubstantiated.”

“Do not accuse an employee in our organization in the way that you are,” Marpe said.

Eileen Moody,  another parent who spoke at the meeting, urged that the school board to “empower principals to pull these bus drivers,” and not have to go up the chain of command.

“Expand your safe school climate to include adults bullying children, and have immediate action to remove them,” she said.

“This matter is under investigation,” Landon told the parents. “The driver has been removed from driving any of our buses.”

Landon also took the opportunity to defend Evangelista.

“In the 12 years or so that I have worked with Ms. Evangelista, I think the charge that she does not respond to phone calls is totally without substance,” Landon said. “In fact, I think it is an exaggeration of truth, and I think that’s very, very unfortunate that such a comment could be made.”

Liotta shot back “that’s completely unfair to accuse me of lying,” to which Marpe again ruled Liotta out of order.

Posted 10/24 at 12:14 AM 

Comments:     Comment Policy

WOW. So this bus driver verbally abused and talked about sex with middle school kids, the kids’ complaints were ignored and the SAME DRIVER was sent to take them home at the end of the day, giving him the chance to retaliate against the kids for complaining?

I can only hope that appropriate disciplinary measures are taken against whoever was responsible for this.

Posted by Paul Bradshaw on October 24, 2012 at 03:10 AM | #

I don’t know the details of this incident and I do not doubt that, either through changes to protocols or as a result of heightened awareness on the part of the responsible individuals, it will not happen again.  And, to be clear, I have no experience dealing with Ms. Evangelista and have no reason to doubt that she has been a responsible and competent employee.  Dr. Landon is entitled to defend her and should defend her if he believes she has done her job. 

But, based on this article and what has been reported elsewhere (including in Westport News), both Mr. Marpe’s and Dr. Landon’s comments are not consistent with transparent oversight of the school district.  Dr. Landon, either blatantly or in a roundabout manner, called Mr. Liotta a liar.  Mr. Marpe accused Mr. Liotta of inappropriately providing “unsubstantiated” commentary.  What in the world does he mean by that?  Mr. Liotta certainly has a right to voice his views on virtually any school matter, certainly one including whether he thinks a school employee was responsive on an immediate matter of his child’s safety.  Moreover, Mr. Liotta’s commentary seems to be drawn from his direct experience, not “unsubstantiated”.  Perhaps the discussions were contentious but Mr. Marpe’s declaration that, “We cannot allow commentary on an individual to be taking place…” suggests that he thinks his job is Chairman of Decorum instead of Chairman of the BOE.  Of course, in either role, he should not allow Dr. Landon to call Mr. Liotta a liar – at least without the same substantiation he implies was missing from Mr. Liotta’s commentary.

Posted by James Westphal on October 24, 2012 at 11:47 AM | #

I Have never had anything but the most pleasant and responsive interaction with Sandra Evangelista. My interactions have been twice (different years) on the first day of school- which I am quite sure is her worst professional day- 2 years in a row I needed to sort out a bus stop issue and she could not have been more helpful.

Posted by kirsten woods on October 24, 2012 at 04:03 PM | #

As with many incidents like this, a series of small mistakes that good people make coupled with horrendous judgement is to blame.  What is missing is any sense of accountability ... Landon, Marpe, Szabo, Evangelista ? Debating a parents first hand experience is simply distraction from the real issue.

Posted by Karen Higgins-carter on October 25, 2012 at 06:47 PM | #

Karen,I absolutely agree with your comments but i would add two points.  First, I understand that Ms Szabo immediately stepped up and addressed the parents candidly.  She’s a very good principal and showed it in thsi situation.  Second, I am sure Ms Evangelista has been directed not to talk to anyone, with the excuse bing that there is a going to be a “report” prepared for the BOE.  So I wouldn’t knock her either on the issue of accepting accountability. 

On the other hand, Dr Landon and Mr Marpe seem more interested in covering their asses .The fact pattern here is no doubt simple and the problem easily fixable.  It should take about three phone calls and ten minutes to figure out what happened and make sure it does not happen again.

Posted by James Westphal on October 25, 2012 at 09:58 PM | #

I certainly agree that Ms. Szabo is a wonderful principal.

However, it is absolutely unacceptable that reports of an unsafe situation, including sexual innuendo to children, went unaddressed.

Imagine this from the point of view of the brave children that reported the driver in the morning ... that their concerns didn’t matter, that they were forced to be alone with this same driver on the very same day.  How preventing this situation was not Ms. Szabo’s top priority for that day is inexcusable. We are only lucky that the abuse these children suffered was not any worse.

And, it is possible that my understanding of the issue is not complete.  The communication to the broader parent community has been a single cryptic email.

Posted by Karen Higgins-carter on October 25, 2012 at 11:35 PM | #

When I read the reports from the parents on the incident the first thought that came to mind was the danger the children were in.  Yes it’s awful that they heard foul language, sexual commentary and felt threatened, but isn’t anyone concerned that by not acting immediately the administration risked far more serious outcomes from a man who appears to be sick? 

Seems like Elliot and Jim Marpe are up to the same old, same old.  Imagine Mr. Marpe suggesting a parent should not speak plainly about his perspective on an administrator.  Really?  Does he realize what country he lives in?

I continue to be baffled that either of these people are are they still around.

Posted by Laura Gallagher on October 26, 2012 at 12:28 PM | #

If I had been the Principal, I would have taken that ride home with the children personally to be sure nothing happened. 

Very sad day for those kids.  Let’s hope we can gain back their trust by working together, and not just pointing fingers, though.

Posted by Tracy Flood on October 26, 2012 at 02:20 PM | #

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