Daily Sitka Sentinel

Criminal Charges Lead to Review of Bus Policy

    The arrest of a young man last week who was alleged to have sexually abused a child on a school bus has raised a few questions about the school district’s ridership policies, district officials said.
    The abuse reportedly occurred on an elementary school bus, where an older student had taken the elementary kids’ bus in order to arrive at school early.
    School Superintendent Steve Bradshaw said since the young man was charged, the superintendent’s office has received a few questions about the district’s busing practices, namely of allowing younger and older kids to ride the same bus.
    He and Gene Prewitt, owner of Island Bus Company, said around the country it is not unusual to have students of all ages riding the same bus, particularly in rural areas.
    However, they said, in Sitka schools open at different times so older and younger students take separate buses.
    “We do have a policy in general that the kids ride the buses they’re supposed to, unless there are special needs.” Prewitt said.
    There are exceptions to this, Bradshaw and Prewitt said. Sometimes a child will miss his or her own bus and flag down any passing bus for a ride into town, or a student needs to get to school early. The student who is either younger or older than the group on the bus generally sits near the driver, Bradshaw said.
    “It’s always been an assumption, that when we have kids riding with younger kids they’re separated,” Bradshaw said. “We always wanted the different age kids riding with the bus driver where we could keep an eye on them. Most of our drivers are aware of keeping the kids separated.”
    There has been no written policy to this effect, Bradshaw said, and problems have been rare related to buses.
    “In my 14 years I’ve been here, I could count the number of bus issues we’ve had on one hand,” the superintendent said. “That’s not to say bad behaviors don’t happen.”
    Prewitt’s records go back further. Island Bus Co. has been the school district’s transportation contractor since 1964, with the exception of five years, and said the policy and practices have worked well. Bradshaw agreed.
    “They’ve done a super job for this community,” Bradshaw said.
    Bradshaw said he and school board members will talk about whether a new written and formal policy is needed for ridership, but the superintendent questioned whether this will be an improvement.
    Last Friday, Bradshaw met with Prewitt and made an additional request that on the K-5 buses, and the grade 6-12 buses, the older kids sit in the back, and younger kids in the front.
    Elementary school children this week reported one bus driver lined the kids up by age before allowing them to board, or asked them to raise their hands by grade, to make sure they were sitting with others close to their grade.
    And on the continued rare occasions that a middle or high school age kid is on an elementary bus, the older student will be asked to sit near the driver. The same goes with an elementary school student on a grade 6-12 bus, Bradshaw said.
    “When you look at how all the years we’ve been doing this and you don’t have problems,” Bradshaw said. “I understand that one situation is one too many. A little common sense on the bus and the problem is taken care of. ... We can’t write a policy that will cover every situation – the more detailed you become, the more difficult it is to understand what your policies are.”
    Alexander Pitkaphillip Evans, 18, was indicted Feb. 17 by a grand jury on one count of sexual abuse of a minor in the first degree, and four counts of sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree. He is being held on $100,000 bail. An omnibus hearing is set for March 7.
    Evans entered a plea of not guilty at his arraignment. He is being represented by the public defender.

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