Parents of a group of Coleytown Middle School students whose bus driver is accused of threatening them with profane and sexually explicit comments again pilloried school officials' handling of the incident at Monday's Board of Education meeting.
School officials, however, again insisted that they responded appropriately.
Mirroring anger they expressed at an earlier school board meeting over the Oct. 18 bus incident, parents who spoke Monday said they are incensed that education officials let the driver carry out his afternoon run after students complained to Coleytown Middle School staff that he had discussed his sex life and used obscene language during their morning bus ride the same day.
The driver -- Daniel Florio, 44, of Norwalk -- then allegedly launched into another tirade during the Bus 16 afternoon run, making threatening remarks that caused many of the children to flee the bus in terror, according to students' accounts.
"If our children cannot even be promised safe transportation to and from school, then what hope do they have of being successful once they get to school?" asked Christine Kurpiel, a parent of one of the Coleytown students. "The Westport school district failed to keep the children of Bus 16 safe. By not addressing the policies that failed to protect those children, the Board of Education is placing more children in jeopardy."
Florio was charged by police last month with risk of injury to a child, threatening and breach of peace. DATTCO, the school district's transportation provider, fired Florio for his misconduct.
Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon, meanwhile, has conducted his own investigation of the incident. He is set to deliver a written report on the Bus 16 controversy at the school board's Dec. 17 meeting. At Monday's meeting, board Chairwoman Elaine Whitney backed Landon and other school officials' response to the incident.
"After hearing from Dr. Landon, the board is satisfied that the personnel at both Coleytown Middle School and the superintendent's office handled the matter in a manner consistent with our policies and procedures," Whitney said. "Be assured that the safety and well-being of Westport students is our highest priority."
But Whitney's remarks did not appear to satisfy the handful of Bus 16 parents who spoke Monday.
"The Board of Ed can subcontract the transportation of our children to DATTCO of our children to DATTCO, but it cannot subcontract their responsibility to keep our children safe," said Eileen Ludy. "The policies and procedures the Board [of Education] have in place failed to keep our children safe on Oct. 18. They need to be reviewed and changed now, not later."
Bus 16 parents' criticism in recent weeks has focused mostly on the response of Landon, Board of Education members and the school district's transportation coordinator, Sandra Evangelista. In contrast, they have praised Coleytown Middle School Kris Szabo's reaction to the incident.
"If they had the right policy, then the afternoon run wouldn't have happened and every parent would have said `You handled that correctly,' " Larry Greenblatt, another parent of a student on Bus 16, told the Westport News. "It's not the morning run that people were upset about; it's the afternoon ride."
Landon so far has not publicly faulted any school officials over how they handled the incident.
In an interview with the Westport News after Monday's meeting, Whitney acknowledged, however, that the Bus 16 controversy warranted a review of the school district's policies and procedures.
"We should take a close look at our pertinent policies and procedures and ensure that they are current and appropriate and adequate to ensure the safety of our kids," she said. "We're going to revisit them, we're going to look at them and have a discussion about whether we need to do any adjustments or clarifications."
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