A school bus driver has been reassigned to another route while county school officials investigate complaints that she ordered unruly children off a Thursday run from Marley Middle School, leaving them to cross busy Ritchie Highway on foot.
"The facts are in dispute," said Winship Wheatley, transportation supervisor for the school system. "It's a pretty serious allegation."
The driver, whose name was not divulged, works for First Student, one of 43 independent bus contractors shuttling children between their homes and county public schools. Jim Woods, First Student's regional operations manager, said the driver is operating a bus - but not on an Anne Arundel route.
"From the character of the driver, we find the allegations extremely unlikely," he said yesterday. "She's denying what's being alleged totally."
But there was no disputing trouble on the Thursday run - with a mix of pupils staying after school for club meetings, intramural sports and disciplinary detention. They had misbehaved the day before, Wheatley said, and the driver started the trip by reciting the rules: Stay in your seats. Don't scream. Keep your hands inside.
She left on the trip but returned to the Glen Burnie school to have the assistant principal repeat the lecture, which hadn't gotten through to them, according to Wheatley and Marley Principal Susan Cassidy.
After the driver left again, the pupils kept misbehaving, throwing things and calling her "seriously foul and abusive names," Wheatley said.
That's where stories diverge. By one account, he said, she took the pupils home, arriving about 30 minutes late because of the return trip to the school. By another account, she told everyone to get off the bus, far from home.
One parent called the school to complain, saying his son had to cross Ritchie Highway at Harundale Plaza. Wheatley said that makes little sense since the school's pupils live on the east side of the highway and the plaza is on the west.
Several parents called the school to complain that children hadn't arrived home on time or had been dropped off in the wrong place, Cassidy said.
The principal said she will meet with pupils and parents today and tomorrow to determine what happened on the bus.
The investigation should be finished this week, Wheatley said.
"A general rule for a bus operator is to take the children to authorized stops," he said. "But there does come a time when it's so dangerous that the kids are safer off the bus than on it."