CHAPIN, SC (WIS) - A Midlands parent is outraged after she says a local school district put her two children at risk. She says all of it boils down to how her students were taken to school on just the second day back.
"I don't play when it comes to my kids' lives, and I don't put my kids in danger. I'm certainly not going to let anyone else do it either," said Kathleen van Halem.
But van Halem says someone else did put her two children's lives in danger last week on their bus ride to Chapin Middle School.
"This is their first year ever riding the bus. I always drove them to school," she said. "I was walking past, and [my daughter and I were] chatting about the day, and she said, 'We had to ride the floor to school.' I said, 'What? Wait a minute? Ride the floor? What do you mean ride the floor to school?'"
Van Halem said when the bus picked up her son and daughter to take them to Chapin Middle, it was overcrowded with Chapin High School students. She said her children, along with a group of others, had nowhere else to sit than on the floor of the bus' aisle.
"I mean, kids stand a chance getting hurt on the bus regardless, because there's no seat belts. Anything can happen, but, certainly, overcrowding a seat and sitting on the floor is totally putting our kids at risk," she said.
Van Halem called the district.
"The man on the phone was kind of making cracks about it. 'What do you want me to do about it, ma'am? I didn't drive the bus.' I was a little taken aback by his attitude about it, and I said, 'Well, listen. You need to either get somebody on the phone that I can talk to that's going to do something about it, or I'll just go straight to WIS," she said.
Lexington-Richland School District 5 has an explanation. A district spokesman says what happened last week was "extremely rare" and "not the district's regular practice."
In this case, a bus broke down and caused the district to make the decision to combine busloads.
What happened is perfectly legal, too. South Carolina law allows a school district to overcrowd buses during the first 20 days of school, even if that means students standing or sitting in the aisle, the district says.
The district also sent us a copy of bus guidelines from the South Carolina Department of Education. One section reads, "All students must be provided a seat on a school bus. A limited number of standees may be permitted until school officials have had an opportunity to adjust the routes/trips to eliminate the standees. This period of time shall not exceed twenty school days."
"I would rather them get to school late than in an accident and hurt," said Van Halem.
In a statement, the district reemphasized that what happened was extremely unusual.
"Instances are extremely rare, however, last week we used the guideline after a school bus broke down while transporting students. No nearby empty buses were available. Rather than have those students wait aboard the stopped bus, another bus already transporting students picked up the additional passengers and continued under a modified route. There's nothing more important than the safety of our students, and the safe transport of our students is a top priority," wrote District Five Chief Information Officer Mark Bounds. "We continue to review bus routes, operations and procedures during these first days of school, and we would like to reassure our families that "overcrowding" and/or having students stand or sit in bus aisles during the first 20 days of school, or any other time, is an extremely rare exception and not the rule in our district."