‘There was so much crying’: DOE investigating school bus incident that left children terrified

A Wahiawa school bus driver recently made a judgment call aimed at calming rowdy kids. Instead, it riled them up ― and angered parents.
Published: May. 10, 2023 at 5:40 PM HST|Updated: May. 10, 2023 at 5:53 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Wahiawa school bus driver recently made a judgment call aimed at calming rowdy kids. Instead, it riled them up ― and angered parents.

The DOE has security video of the whole thing, but hasn’t released it.

However, Hawaii News Now does have audio revealing how the situation escalated to involve military police.

The commotion happened Tuesday afternoon. And for the rest of the week in the wake of the incident, a Wahiawa Elementary staff member is riding on the bus to and from the Helemano Military Reservation.

The DOE says the incident stems from the driver’s decision to stop at the Child Development Center on base because he determined the ride was unsafe due to student behavior.

It’s what happened next that got the kids and their parents upset.

The recorded audio captures children crying and the bus driver saying he wouldn’t release them to parents.

Parent Heather Fisher said the whole situation “felt like a crisis scene.”

“There was so much crying. The kids were very upset. They were hysterical crying,” she said.

Army mom Jill Smith says she was told some kids were climbing over and under seats, prompting the driver to stop. But she believes the driver’s scolding went too far.

“My daughter frantically runs to me just in a panic and you can see the sheer terror on her face being told that she wasn’t going to be released and that none of the kids are going to be released to anybody,” said Smith.

Smith’s 10-year-old daughter recorded audio of the incident.

Here’s part of the exchange:

Child: “So if our parents do come here, they can’t come and get us?”

Bus driver: “I don’t care. I ain’t giving them to you guys, your parents.”

Child: “But we are their kids.”

Bus driver: “I don’t care if it’s an MP (military police) come over here. I don’t care. I’m not going to release nobody.”

Later in the audio, the children burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably.

Bus driver: “Why are you guys crying now?”

Child: “Because you are making us upset.”

Bus driver: “Are you yelling at me?”

Child: “Because I’m upset.”

Bus driver: “I don’t care what you upset about.”

“You guys think it’s easy for driving and look back at the window. Just making sure nobody is hurt while you guys are playing around? My job is to take you to the school and bring you home safe,” added the driver.

Parents say they’re not upset that the driver stopped, but they’re demanding accountability from everyone.

“More than once he told them I don’t care who shows up. I’m not letting you guys off the bus,” said Fisher.

The DOE says the driver followed protocol by stopping at a designated stop during an unsafe situation, but there was a delay from dispatch to tell the driver what to do next.

“The driver determined the bus was not safe to continue all of the scheduled bus stops,” said Wahiawa Elementary principal Sean Takashima in a letter. “The driver had made attempts to address student behavior that was impacting his ability to focus on the road,” he added.

Parents didn’t know where their kids were so some called military police.

On Wednesday, that driver was back on the bus and Takashima said DOE is reviewing the video.

Hawaii News Now reached out to the school bus company, Roberts Hawaii, and has not heard back.