This is the third in a series of articles written by the staff of the Huerfano World Journal titled: “Keeping Our Children Safe.” While the last two articles have focused on problems in our schools, we plan to include in the series indepth articles on successes and solutions. We hope you will enjoy reading this series and also that you will feel free to chime in as you see fit.
WALSENBURG- When Christina Martinez’s daughter got off the school bus at the bus stop down the street from her home on Tuesday, March 1, she had a mark above her left eye where she had been hit by another student on board the bus. The mark later gave way to some swelling and bruising. This wasn’t the first time her daughter had been hit, allegedly by the same person.
“My granddaughter was frightened about getting back on the bus the next day,” her grandmother Kathy Martinez said. “And Christina [the child’s mother] knew she had to say something about it. So the next day she said something to the bus driver.” What Martinez did was as much a reflex action of a mother protecting her young as it was a premeditated event. She boarded the bus and confronted the bus driver about the fighting that’s been happening on board the bus.
According to the police report, the driver, Robert Lloyd Busch, alleges that Martinez became aggressive and “got in his face.” Both the child’s mother and her grandmother say otherwise. And it was this confrontation that prompted the lockdown of Peakview school on Wednesday, March 2 and the arrest of Christina Martinez. Kathy Martinez says her daughter didn’t threaten anyone on board the bus or school staff. “She really wanted to know what was going on. Why the bus driver couldn’t stop the fighting.”
At this point, the students who have been causing the trouble on that bus have been assigned to another route by the school. But Christina’s daughter is still nervous about getting on board the bus in the morning.
Martinez noted that another member of her family has also experienced bullying. Her nephew attends middle school in Walsenburg, and over the past year, he has been dealing with another student who allegedly has harassed him, hit him and finally has threatened to kill him. The child’s mother, April, even has a note containing a death threat that was written to her son along with a drawing of a floor plan of where the threat would be carried out.
“I’ve spoken with the administration at John Mall about this and shown them the death threat, but they haven’t done anything about it,” Martinez said. The middle school administration finally recommended that Martinez’s son join the wrestling team. The boy who made the threats is on the same wrestling team.
Another instance of bullying has been reported at Peakview School. Helen Barela’s grandson attends Peakview. She has guardianship for her grandson and tells the Huerfano World Journal that he is hyperactive.
Last November her grandson was on board a school bus at school waiting to ride home. According to the police report, the bus driver, Jose Sanchez also known as Pete, was instructing the students about keeping the bus clean. As he talked to the students, he was moving from the front to the back of the bus.
When he turned, he says he saw Helen’s grandson hanging from the luggage rack at the front of the bus while he was kicking another student. Sanchez rushed forward and, according to his statement to the police, “…grabbed him [Barela’s grandson] by the sides and placed him on his feet in the aisle. Then, without touching him, used his size in the aisle to get the boy to move down the aisle and off the bus.” Sanchez told the grandson he couldn’t ride the bus and left the child there in the parking lot.
According to the police report, the fight on the bus had started because Barela’s grandson had an art project he had worked on taken from him by another boy who then tore up the project.
At the time that police questioned Sanchez about the incident, Sanchez felt he was faced with a dilemma: should he take Barela’s grandson into the gym, a move that would have left a bus full of children unattended, or should he simply leave Barela’s grandson alone in the parking lot. Sanchez chose to leave Barela’s grandson in the parking lot at John Mall High School and apparently did not notify anyone that the child was there.
The boy began walking across town to his home but finally located a friend’s house where he was able to contact home. His grandmother had been at home worrying about the safety of her grandson when he didn’t get off the bus after it had stopped by her home to drop off several other students who lived nearby.
Photos were taken by the Department of Social Services showing bruises on the boy’s arms that were caused by the bus driver grabbing the boy’s arms. In the police report Barela suggested that more training and procedures for the bus drivers may help. She also did not wish to proceed with charges at the time the police report was made in November 2010.
When the Huerfano World Journal spoke with RE-1 Superintendent Dawn Olsen about the incidents, she said that the school district is genuinely concerned about incidents such as this. “There are times that George Purnell or Pat McDonald or even Linda Bennett will ride the buses if they’ve heard there’s been trouble.”
“We have a bus discipline procedure we work with. We’ve found that kids can ride to Pueblo and not get up and change seats. Somehow though things seem different on a [school] bus. We’ve talked about possibly security cams. Bus drivers need to watch the road because of safety. Transportation becomes a challenge when kids get up and move around the bus.”
However as the schools try to work out some problems both on the buses and in the schools, they have found that where the kids and their parents are concerned, fingers point at all parties involved in an incident, “…and we try to resolve what we can,” Olsen said.
“The school has a policy on aggressive behavior. We could bring police into a situation and parents can file complaints as well. If something is happening at school we try to investigate. I do know that there is a whole side to these stories I can’t divulge.”
In the background of each incident is a common factor — bullying. In each case advocates for the victim contend that the school authorities have not done enough to stop the bullying and that their child has been treated as the offender after the fact by school authorities. In every case the students who have been assaulted or harassed are showing a drop in performance at school and are earning lower grades.
Christina Martinez has had a temporary restraining order issued on her that prevents her from being near the bus driver or school property, and her daughter is still nervous about getting on the school bus. In the case of April Martinez, the family feels that nothing has been done to stop the harassment of her son, and it still goes on. In Helen Barela’s case, charges of neglect are still pending against the bus driver, and it is not clear whether her son continues to be bullied by another student.