School bus incident under investigation

School bus incident under investigation

An ordinary case of keeping children orderly on a school bus took a twisted turn Thursday afternoon.
In an effort to keep students from both Martin Primary and Martin Elementary schools quiet, Rhonda Gallimore, who has been serving as a school bus driver and cafeteria substitute since 2005, allegedly distributed strips of duct tape for students to place across their mouths. Another accusation is that Gallimore placed the duct tape on the children’s mouths.  
In an official report from the Martin Police Department, on Friday afternoon, patrol officer Chris Finch was dispatched to 155 Brooks Drive in reference to an earlier incident that happened on the school bus.
He spoke with a mother who said that her six-year-old daughter, a passenger on Gallimore’s bus, allegedly got off the bus Thursday afternoon with duct tape over her mouth. The mother further stated that her daughter is asthmatic and she was concerned for her child’s health after the duct tape had been placed over her mouth. She also revealed that the driver’s name is “Rhonda.”
She allegedly attempted to contact the Weakley County Board of Education, but was unable to speak with anyone Finch attempted to contact the board and also failed in making contact.
In a statement made later in the day on Friday, Weakley County Director of Schools Randy Frazier acknowledged receiving several calls of complaint Thursday night.
“I had no sooner sat down at my home following our school board meeting when I received the first email from a parent. I began investigating the complaints immediately.”
Frazier then contacted transportation supervisor Mike Simmons to insure Gallimore would be placed on unpaid leave while the matter was being examined. After examining a video from the bus’s camera, Frazier said that the camera supported the claims.
“It is obvious that this employee used poor judgment while supervising these students,” Frazier said.
Ben and Debra Rubio’s fifth-grade daughter was also on the bus and told her parents of the incident.
“She said the driver had been threatening to do this several times, but actually did it this time,” Ben said.
He added that Gallimore had threatened to pull the bus over on the side of the road until the kids quieted down – an act that he, as a truck driver, could not understand.
“The only time to pull over on the side of the road is in the case of an emergency,” Ben said. “Otherswise, you put people in danger.”
Debra said that when she’d called Simmons earlier to inquire about policy, she’d found no policy in place for such an incident.
“Problems are being brushed under the rug and there needs to be policy on these matters,” Debra said. “I’m not normally a loud person or a person who wants recognition, but I want to make sure people know that this is going on.”
Joey Davis’s son, who is in kindergarten, was also a rider on Gallimore’s bus.
“My son told me that the driver told the kids on Wednesday that if they would not stop being so loud and hollering that she would bring duct tape. On Thursday, they were still being loud, so she brought the tape and gave out pieces of it and told all the students to put it over their mouths. My son has been instructed to do whatever he is told by the bus driver, so he did,” Davis said.
“It was a poor decision on her part,” he added. “She has abused her power over those children.”
Gallimore had a different story to share.
“The kids and I play a lot. We joke and cut up a lot, but I handed them pieces of tape and they put them over their mouths,” Gallimore said. “I’ve joked and cut up with them for seven years and we’ve had a lot of problems on the bus, but we’ve always joked around and cut up together. I gave them pieces of tape and a lot of them giggled and asked for more. I wasn’t there to harm them. I didn’t mean them any harm. I know now not to joke like that, but it’s too late and it’s over and done with and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Following accusations of child abuse and neglect in the form of inappropriate behavior management tactics being used on the route, Gallimore resigned.

WCP 11.08.11

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