Lake Hamilton bus driver Joyce O'Neal told KARK on Monday that she had been verbally and physically assaulted by a high school football player on her bus during a morning route on September 25, 2012.
According to O'Neal, the boy and others were harassing a middle school girl, inciting the other students on the bus to the point of a riot, requiring her to pull the bus over and try and separate out the students.
When she tried to get the football player to move to the front of the bus, O'Neal said, the student became insubordinate, screaming profanities at her, and ran over her, shoving her out of the way, his backpack scratching her arm badly enough to draw blood.
Despite having filed write up forms, O'Neal claimed she was never informed of any disciplinary actions that had taken place against the student and her efforts to discuss the issue with school administrators had been unsuccessful.
On October 3, 2012, O'Neal filed a report with the Garland County Sheriff's office about the incident, saying she did so once she realized no actions were being taken by the High School principal to hand down discipline to the student.
KARK contacted Superintendent Steve Anderson on Monday, and he told us he had only learned of the incident that day and was looking into it. On Tuesday, he provided KARK with additional information on behalf of the district.
Anderson wanted to point out that O'Neal is a temporary, non-contracted substitute driver working for the Lake Hamilton School District, although O'Neal said during her application process she applied and was told she had been hired as a full-time driver with a full-time route.
According to Anderson, the football player along with other students involved in the altercation on the bus had been punished. Two female students had been suspended from riding the bus, Anderson said, and the male student received a lesser disciplinary sanction -- not releasing what that disciplinary action was -- saying it occurred the week after the incident.
According to Anderson, the transportation director for the district was able to view the video camera from the bus, however, the quality was rather poor and it was difficult to see what transpired, due to students standing up at the time of the incident.
When asked if he had viewed the video, Anderson said he had not because the video images had been erased.
However, Anderson said, a review of the materials and interviews with those involved led administrators to determine that the student's injuring the driver was an accident -- not done on purpose.
But O'Neal disagrees with that assessment.
"He came at me incredibly aggressively. It wasn't an accident. He came at me so fast, yelling curse words at me. He ran me over, and as he did so he slung that backpack around," she said. "It was no accident. He could have just calmly walked past me when I asked him to come to the bus."
Anderson added that the video was erased because O'Neal failed to completely turn off the ignition to the bus two nights in a row.
"The video system on that bus is an older version," Anderson said. "The video runs while the ignition is engaged then automatically deletes. Because she left the ignition running, it wiped out the video."
O'Neal wasn't aware of the ignition having been left running. She wasn't made aware the video had been erased until more than a week after the incident, when Garland County Sheriff's investigators inquired with the transportation department to get a copy of the video.
Additionally, Anderson said O'Neal never mentioned an assault to administrators. He said that in her written documents she only wrote that a student's belongings had hit her, and that an assault was never mentioned.
O'Neal said that is flat out not true, saying she did write that the student's belongings had hit her but that in verbal discussions with administrators, her supervisors, and other school staff she had made it clear that the student had become aggressive with her and physically came into contact with her.
"I made it clear what had happened," she said. "Blood was running down my arm as I talked to my supervisors and one of the school principals. It didn't occur to me that I had to actually write the word 'assault'."
Ultimately, Anderson said he could not recommend O'Neal for a full-time position with the district. When asked if she had been terminated, he said she was not an employee, but a temporary substitute and that her "services were no longer needed".
"She took confidential documents, containing confidential student information, and released that publicly," Anderson said, referring to the yellow slips that had been returned to O'Neal, which she showed to KARK as proof she had filed disciplinary forms. "I could not recommend her for full-time employment because of that."
"It is unethical and inappropriate for an employee of the school to discuss disciplinary issues with the general public or media. These are confidential issues that should only be discussed with the students' parents, school administrators, or law enforcement," Anderson said. "Any allegation that this student or any student receives special treatment due to recreational activities in the district is unfounded and without factual basis."
According to O'Neal she only contacted the media once her efforts to work with school administrators about the discipline issue were unsuccessful.
"I was completely out of options. I tried meeting with the High School principal, and he put me off for a week and a half. When I finally got to meet with him, after he told me Homecoming was not a time to discipline the week before, he told me nothing was going to be done with the student and that was that," O'Neal said Tuesday in response to the termination."He told me to file charges, take other avenues. So that's what I did. Now, I don't have a job."
The Garland County Sheriff's Office is investigating the incident as a felony battery case. Those files will be turned over to the Garland County Prosecutor who will decide whether to pursue charges.