A bus driver may have allegedly crossed the line, leading to an investigation under New Jersey’s anti-bullying law, after an incident aboard one of the company’s buses last month.
The driver said, “My bus, my rules,” before getting in an argument with 7-year-old student Adrian Hayden over letting a friend sit with him, which eventually culminated in the driver telling the boy that if the bus got in an accident, it would be his fault, according to Adrian’s father, John Hayden.
“You can’t lay that on a kid,” he said. “This driver’s going completely over the edge.”
What began as just a seemingly gruff bus driver turned ugly in a hurry, Hayden said. It started almost as soon as Adrian began riding a later activity bus after getting involved in a couple of after-school clubs at Oakview in March, and had reached its peak within three weeks, in early April.
The blowup came after the driver allegedly forced Adrian, who has severe food allergies, to sit alone, pressed against the window, and consistently referred to him as “the allergy kid,” which Hayden called bizarre and demeaning.
“He’s a normal kid with food allergies,” Hayden said.
With stories like Aiken Chaifetz’s alleged bullying at the hands of his Cherry Hill teachers and grabbing headlines this year, Hayden said his first move was to take it right to the district and request an investigation, which started almost immediately.
“This is another example of an adult bullying a kid,” he said. “These adults need to be held accountable.”
The process began just before spring break, and by the time school resumed, the driver had already been pulled off Adrian’s activity bus route, Hayden said.
“The school is doing everything right,” he said.
The investigation under the state’s anti-bullying law is complete, Superintendent Kevin Kitchenman confirmed, but the report hadn’t been finished in time for the last school board meeting, meaning it’s still sealed.
“Until it's presented to the board, I can't comment on it,” Kitchenman said.
There may not be much he can say after it’s been presented, either, given the restrictions imposed on how much information can be shared with the various parties involved in the investigation.
Hayden said he’d be surprised if the final report doesn’t confirm the allegations.
“It seems to be a pretty clear case,” he said.
It’s not the first time the Haydens—or other families—have had problems with DeHart this year. Several incidents with substitute drivers and aides, including one who tried to force Adrian from his assigned seat, have cropped up during the year, prompting .
DeHart CEO Dennis Noon, who didn’t return a phone message seeking comment for this story, told the school board at its December meeting that the company was working to resolve those issues, and had gone so far as to suspend a driver from working in West Deptford after at least one of those incidents, where a student was forced off a bus more than a mile from his home.
“This is a pattern with this company,” Hayden said, accusing DeHart of becoming complacent, thanks to its decades-long, .
Hiring someone who would say “despicable” things to young students is a huge red flag, and signals the company just doesn’t care, Hayden said.
“This is a person who shouldn’t be driving, period,” he said.
Hayden said this is far from an individual crusade, and more about ensuring adults are held accountable for their actions.
“I don’t want any other kid to go through this,” he said. “The right thing to do is to get rid of this driver.”
Editor's note: this article has been modified to clarify the time frame in which the incident happened.