ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Albuquerque school board has voted to renew a contract with one of the companies that provide bus service for the school district, but one family is asking that steps be taken to better protect children.
Melissa Carrasco asked the board this week not to renew the contract with Herrera School Buses and Coaches. She said her two special needs children were mistreated by one of the company's bus drivers.
Carrasco asked the board to hold off on renewing the contract or to examine Herrera's hiring practices if they did renew it, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
The board decided Wednesday to approve the $4.7 million contract. Administrators cited Herrera's responsiveness to the complaints as a reason the company deserved the business of what is the state's largest public school district.
Herrera is one of 16 contractors that transport students for the school district.
A claim against the company alleges Carrasco's daughters were blindfolded because the driver didn't like to see them staring. A bus aide was also accused of hitting one of the girls' seats repeatedly.
A letter to the board from Herrera's lawyer, Jason Bowles, states that the driver and aide involved in that incident admitted to the allegations and have since been fired. The letter calls their actions "undoubtedly inappropriate and reprehensible."
Bowles also wrote that the company "does not tolerate abuse by any of its employees and works hard to ensure that the students are protected and well taken care of."
A letter to the board from the Carrascos' attorney, Mark Fine, outlined the family's case and included stories from two other families whose special needs students were allegedly mistreated by Herrera employees. He wrote that many children with special needs are unable to express themselves, making it hard to know how many incidents have gone unreported.
Angie Griego said her son saw a driver's genitals while the driver was urinating in a bucket on the bus.
Bowles said that driver, who was fired, was in his 80s and couldn't control his bladder.
Griego told the Journal that she feels drivers aren't adequately trained to work with special needs students.
Bus drivers who transport students with disabilities receive training from the school district's special education department. District spokesman Rigo Chavez said the trainings are scheduled regularly and are tailored to reflect the kinds of disabilities the drivers will encounter on their routes.
Board Vice President Kathy Korte said during the board's meeting Wednesday that bus contractors struggle to retain quality drivers. Korte has been involved in several meetings with contractors, who have told her drivers often leave for higher paying jobs after receiving training from school bus companies.
"When you're constantly seeing that kind of movement among the bus drivers themselves, it's very, very difficult to keep really good people in our buses," Korte said, adding that she's sympathetic to families whose students have been mistreated.