Not all bus rides are sweet, she says

Our columnist Claudette Sandecki tells us how she recalls school bus drivers, at least one in particular

Let me tell you how I recall school bus drivers, at least a particular driver my oldest daughter rode with during her first grade.

The year was 1972. We lived 30 miles from Terrace on Highway 16, on a bus route that began in Cedarvale 17 miles farther east and ended at Thornhill Primary.

For the first year, our six-year-old daughter didn’t complain to us about being bullied on the bus. She did her best to ignore her abusers and hope they would stop. Of course, they didn’t.

Only when Grade 2 began, did she speak out. Her stomach cramped at the thought of another 10 months of being a punching bag for a teen more than twice her age and easily four times her weight.

The torment she endured on the bus was similar to that of the 70-year-old New York state bus monitor who was harassed for 10 minutes by middle school students whose misbehaviour was videotaped and posted on Youtube. The video went viral.

But unlike the New York monitor’s case, where school and police investigated and two teens were suspended for a year, school authorities here took no remedial action, dismissing our daughter’s complaints as “kids will be kids. She should toughen up.”

Her main tormenter, who boarded the bus before it arrived at our driveway,  was a Twinkie/Ding Dong munching hulk who amused himself during her 30 mile ride punching her tiny shoulder with his meaty mitts. If his mother packed apples in his lunch kit, he used them as long range ammunition.

No rule outlawed standing or moving about while the bus was in motion. Regulating hurtful or inappropriate student behaviour was not a driver’s responsibility. He had his eye on the highway, and rightly so, but the welfare of his passengers should also have included keeping kids safe from mistreatment by other, particularly older and bigger riders.

Each morning she was more reluctant to climb aboard when I escorted her to the end of our long driveway to await the lights coming around the nearest bend.

One fall morning, after a session of her tearful complaints, I climbed aboard with her and delivered a scathing rebuke to the kids – a major mistake – since it did no good whatever, merely made her more of a target. The whole time I talked, the driver slouched in his seat, smirking.

For us as parents, the last straw was the winter morning when our driveway was so icy I could scarcely stand up.

“Why,” I asked myself, “would any sane mother relinquish her seven-year-old to a driver who clearly has no control over his passengers and that morning would be hard pressed just to keep his vehicle on the highway, never mind watching for gross misbehaviour in the seats behind him?”

I walked her back to our house. We arranged to home school her by correspondence course.

For the next two years I home schooled both our daughters. Every forenoon we worked two hours on their lessons. In the afternoons, they tagged along with me feeding 500 rabbits, chickens, geese, pigs and sheep. At bedtime, I read eight to 10 library books to them.

During camping season, they came along as I registered campers, emptied garbage, mowed lawns, scrubbed washrooms, and answered campers questions about fishing and hiking in the area.

They played games with campers’ kids, kibitzed with seniors around their campfires.

When we moved to Thornhill in the spring of 1975, both girls performed at their Grade 4 and 3 level, had no classroom catching-up to do.

And they no longer rode a school bus with the hulk or an oblivious driver.

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