A Beaufort County School District bus driver is no longer employed by the district after police say she let a parent get on a bus last week — at least the second time in less than a month that a district bus driver has broken protocol.
A mother of a student boarded an M.C. Riley Elementary School bus near Haigler Boulevard and Frierson Circle in Bluffton on Thursday afternoon after her daughter was involved in an altercation with another student.
Surveillance video from the bus shows a boy waving a poster around and hitting the girl on the head, according to a report from the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office. Although it did not appear the boy intentionally hit the girl, the girl yelled at him, sparking the altercation.
After the girl got off the bus, her mother climbed aboard, pointed to the boy and, among other comments, told him, "don't mess with my children or I will come after you."
The bus driver never attempted to stop the mother from getting on the bus, which is against protocol, the Sheriff's Office report said.
As the incident unfolded, the bus driver laughed, the report said.
"She seemed annoyed about the whole situation, but she did not try to stop it or intervene," the deputy wrote in the report.
District spokesman Jim Foster said Monday that the school was notified of the incident by a parent on Friday morning.
Deputies, however, were not called to investigate until Friday afternoon, according to the report.
That's because David Grissom, the district's protective services officer, told deputies that he and school staff investigated the incident for a couple of hours — reviewing the video and formulating a plan— before contacting law enforcement.
Foster said school staff did not contact the Sheriff's Office immediately because initial reports did not indicate an unauthorized individual boarded the bus.
"When that was contradicted (by the surveillance video), we notified law enforcement," he said.
According to the report, the school's principal, Adrienne Sutton, did not want to be listed in the report "for safety concerns." Foster declined to explain what those safety concerns entailed.
Although school staff requested the Sheriff's Office pursue charges against the mother for interfering with the operation of a school bus, administrators refused to provide deputies with a copy of the surveillance video unless a subpoena was provided.
"I was able to view the video as many times as needed, but I could not take a copy with me," a deputy wrote in his account.
Asked why the deputy was not provided a copy, Foster said the district must adhere to federal privacy laws for its students.
"Anything involving kids becomes student record and those are protected under federal law," he said. "Before we release anything that is under our responsibility, we require a subpoena."
While Lt. Col. Bill Neill of the Sheriff's Office said that the school district requiring a subpoena was not out of the ordinary in terms of procedure, he noted that it's often to get surveillance footage when working with private businesses.
"You seem to get less red tape with stores," Neill said Monday.
Both Beaufort County Magistrate Judge Douglas Novak and the deputy agreed there was not enough evidence to charge the mother with a crime.
Despite this, Foster said the district will likely ask that charges against the mother be filed.
This is at least the second time in less than a month that the Sheriff's Office has been called about a district bus driver.
In April, a male bus driver was dismissed after police say he passed a note to a student with his phone number on it.