By Bill Lee
In May 2011, Rockford earned the distinction of being no. 9 on a “Most Dangerous Cities in America” list. Such a tribute is not created in a vacuum. Crimes have become so commonplace in the city that even a shooting rates barely more than a paragraph in local newspapers. I believe a contributing factor to the coarsening of our society can be attributed to Rockford’s public schools.
During her time as superintendent, Dr. LaVonne Sheffield outlined two incompatible goals: teach all children and provide a “safe learning environment.” Either you try to teach everyone and retain the bullies, or you get rid of the troublemakers and keep only those who want to learn. The behavior of public school students is exhibited daily to the bus drivers who endure appalling and humiliating abuse. It is accepted that the students will yell, “Shut the f— up and drive, b—-!” It is accepted behavior that middle-school students will collectively rap about bitches and f—ing. Female bus drivers are routinely called b—-es and threatened with physical harm.
Fights on buses are a daily occurrence—big, ugly, riotous affairs that sometimes require police intervention. On a weekly basis, police are requested by the drivers, but rarely called.
One morning, a female student said to me, “You’re an ass—twice—when I followed the drop-off policy at Auburn. That afternoon she said, “I can’t wait until we get our permanent bus driver back so we can send your ass home.” First offense: letter home. Second offense: letter home. Driving for West, as I drove past a street, a girl jumped up and yelled, “Boy, you need to turn here!” West, by the way, is a middle school. For Kennedy, a boy said to me, “If you’re a bus driver, why is your neck red, and do you put mayonnaise on your Wonder Bread?” Another child said, “Get out of my way” as he pushed his way past.
Misbehavior is regularly documented in Discipline Referrals, or “Write-ups.” Offenders are often “written up” three, six, eight, and even a dozen times with no action taken. From Guilford, I called someone by his name, and he said, “Don’t talk to me like you know me, Mother——!” When I was about to turn a corner, he jumped up and yelled, “Stop the bus, Mother——!” He continued to enjoy bus privileges. On the same Guilford bus 226, a large student grabbed my water bottle from the cup rack on the dash, walked down the steps, and turned and hurled it at me, hitting me in the neck. I’m just glad it didn’t hit my eyeglasses.
In the Army, senior NCOs have a saying: “If you pass by a correction, you have set the standard.” In other words, if you ignore someone who is violating a standard, you have given your approval to substandard behavior. Although all schools in Rockford have student standards of behavior and dress, these are routinely ignored or haphazardly enforced. For instance, the Auburn Parent/Student Handbook prohibits the showing of cleavage or shirt straps less than 2 inches wide. In addition, the Handbook states that “Any apparel that reveals undergarments, stomach, or inappropriate parts of your body is not allowed.” However, cleavage is predominantly displayed at all the middle and high schools without consequence. Of course, school administrators will claim dress standards are enforced. However, just visit the schools to see how the students are dressed. Are you going to believe the administrators or your own lying eyes?
At Auburn, I witnessed one male walking down the sidewalk at the school shirtless, and with his pants below his buttocks. Just to prove his confidence in the lack of enforcement, he dropped his shorts to reveal his real underpants while teachers looked on. At East, one shirtless individual with his pants down walked past an administrator with nothing being said. At ACES, one bus passenger unsurprisingly had his waist band touching his legs. Such attire is common, but what surprised me was when he walked off the bus, he also had his front fly fully opened!
Another principle is that kids universally lie. When you call them on something you have witnessed, their invariable response is, “Ididndonothin!” When you direct them to move to another seat after hitting someone, they will say, “WhatdidIdo?” One elementary school girl told her mother I would not let her put down the windows one hot afternoon. Video will show that not only were all windows open halfway, but also both roof hatches.
One afternoon I was called into the Terminal Manager’s office to answer a parental complaint. Their daughter said that I called her and another girl “sluts.” Although the VHS tape vindicated me, she learned a useful lesson: make an accusation to get what you want and not suffer any consequences. At Auburn, a girl simply dropped a drink cup on the parking lot in front of the bus. When I pointed out that a trash can was in plain view next to the bus, she just gave me a blank look. When you see people throwing their trash on the ground and out windows, know that they are responding to learned behavior! Regardless of what you do, you will suffer no censure, let alone consequences. She has learned that someone else will take care of her and pick up after her. This lack of responsibility is caused by the “entitlement mentality” which begins at school. Breakfast is served, then lunch, then after school activities and snacks. Where everything is given, and nothing is expected in return, nothing is appreciated. Rather than places of learning, our schools have become heavily subsidized and overpriced day care centers.
At Lewis Lemon, I couldn’t understand where all the broken crayons were coming from that the kids were using to throw at each other. I then learned that the Century 21 after-school day care program was giving them fresh ammunition nightly. Also at Lewis Lemon, the bus I was driving was used for three separate routes, so there were at least three name cards above each window. While I was checking kids on, in less than a minute, all the name cards were torn off the interior. There were no consequences for this pack behavior. With the additions of special schools, special instruction, free meals, loads of after-school activities, have test scores improved or declined? I would bet scores are declining because learning is no longer a priority or taken seriously.
To be continued….
Bill Lee is a bus driver of the Rockford Public School District 205.
From the June 15-21, 2011 issue