And the drama on the bus goes round and round

May 19, 2010 at 5:00 am

The school bus can be one of the scariest places on wheels for any young person considered “different.” Maybe it’s because the kids have been repressing their crazy sides all day and then must sit in an uncomfortable, confined space with peers whom they have not yet learned to respect.

Or maybe it’s because the only adult assigned to supervise the kids is busy operating a giant motor vehicle. One thing is for sure: The school bus can be a social battlefield for adolescents.

So on March 31, a middle school student got made fun of on the school bus. This happens all the time and, therefore, should not be a big deal, right? And it certainly doesn’t warrant any local press, correct? Well, not quite. Especially when the student lives in Louisville, has two moms, and the situation involves homophobic haranguing by the bus driver.

According to the Kentucky Equality Federation, a 12-year-old Crosby Middle School student approached her bus driver looking for help to defuse an already tense and offensive atmosphere with her classmates. They were talking smack about gays and lesbians. The bus driver could have responded with an, “All right, everyone settle down,” or “What is going on back there?” But she didn’t. Instead of dealing with the situation like a responsible and trusted adult, the driver allegedly laughed and called the student a “contradiction” because she has two lesbian moms. “Being 12 years old at the time, she did not know what that meant,” according to a parent of the student. “My daughter did ask her what that meant, and the bus driver ignored her.” The parent claims the bus driver then told her daughter to sit down and be quiet, and the student responded by calling the driver a “jerk.”

When the assistant principle at Crosby learned of the situation, she reportedly advised the student to “simply ignore such comments and grow some thicker skin.” Then she suspended her from the bus for three days for being “smart” with the bus driver and demanded that she write a letter of apology. When the student returned to school, the driver allegedly made her sit in back of the bus and would not allow any of her friends to talk to her.

The reason this keeps me awake at night is not because it is a gay issue, but because it is a kids’ issue. I understand not everybody in the world has learned that children need respect, but shouldn’t everyone who works for our schools in Kentucky understand this?

Some of the basic guidelines that middle-schoolers are taught when dealing with bullying — and the Center for Women and Families will agree with me on this — are a) bullying can be verbal only, not just physical, b) it can escalate into a serious threat quickly, and c) the best thing to do is find a responsible adult and tell them if you feel threatened. The school failed this student on all counts. I give them an F.

The progressive civil rights group is bringing this bus dilemma into the national spotlight by asking supporters to sign their petition demanding the school apologize for reprimanding the student. “Sorry, but a bus driver and an assistant principal are supposed to provide safe spaces for their students,” the group states, “not spaces where they’re forced to sit in silence while students and school officials can make fun of one’s same-sex parents.” They’ve gathered more than 1,000 signatures and are looking for more. The Kentucky Equality Federation is filing official complaints with Louisville’s lawmakers in the Kentucky House of Representatives, the commonwealth’s secretary of education, the Kentucky Department of Education, and the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board.

To the 12-year-old girl, I say: I would have done the same thing in your situation, and I turned out OK. I know many people, both gay and straight, who would sit on the bus with you if they could.

To the bus driver: If you are going to continue to let your personal opinions interfere with the well-being of those around you, then please don’t work for the school system. If you are indeed a jerk and prefer to let your judgments get in the way of doing your job, then maybe there is a better job for you … like, say, columnist.