FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA 21) – Where is Bob?
It’s a story we brought you earlier this week: A retired school bus driver picketing outside the Fort Wayne Community Schools bus barn – expressing concerns about safety. That retired driver says ever since the district fired its former supervisor of safety and student management, Bob Rinearson, last year, bus drivers have become more fearful about the safety of their students and themselves.
Rinearson is in the middle of a lawsuit against the district for wrongful termination and discrimination.
In an exclusive interview back in November, Rinearson told ABC21 he thinks the school district really fired him because he penned three newspaper columns, criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement. The district wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit.
Now six months after ABC21 first aired Bob’s story, Fort Wayne Community School bus drivers are reaching out to our Digging Deeper investigative team.
They’re complaining about alleged violence on board district buses, and say the district isn’t doing enough to keep kids and drivers safe.
Two drivers detailed accounts – one in an on-camera interview – and another in a detailed letter – under the condition we concealed their identities.
"We need help, we need help. Bob was the one who made sure that happened for us."
A cry for help from a bus driver for the largest public school district in the state of Indiana – Fort Wayne Community Schools.
The driver, fearing for the safety of students and drivers, says some students refuse to cooperate with bus rules and consistently act out, sometimes violently, making the ride to and from school dangerous for everyone on board.
"They are put back on the bus, day after day after day, and we are told the school’s hands are tied."
This driver believes the district lost control of unruly students after firing Rinearson.
"I feel very powerless."
And this driver isn’t the only one who feels this way.
ABC21 also received a handwritten letter from another bus driver for the district, describing an incident on a bus route saying "the entire bus was fighting."
After pulling over to break up the fight, the driver says a student suffered an asthma attack.
ABC21 cross-checked the driver’s description with the Fort Wayne Police activity log, and police officials confirmed there was an unruly crowd on the bus that day and that a student on board experienced chest pains.
The letter goes on saying students were climbing out windows and chanting vulgar language.
The driver wrote:
"I’ve never felt my life in direct harms way as I did in this moment. I’m still disturbed, and with the way this situation was being handled, I question whether or not our safety is even a concern to FWCS Corporation."
We reached out to Fort Wayne Community Schools spokeswoman Krista Stockman for an on-camera interview for a response to this story.
Stockman denied our request and sent us the following statement:
"We certainly would disagree that we are placing students and drivers in danger. And we disagree with the allegation that we are ignoring complaints. When we receive complaints, we address them. Students are expected to follow the FWCS Code of Conduct on school buses, just as if they were in school.
It is impossible for me to respond further, having no information about the allegations that one of our nearly 200 drivers has made to you. At this point in the day, our Transportation Department is busy making sure students are getting home, so I will not be able to reach them today.
We are not interested in going on camera for this story."
-Krista Stockman, Public Information Officer, Fort Wayne Community Schools