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Bridgetown subdivision parents angry over response to school bus incident
District leaders respond to letters group sent about safety concerns
School bus

A dozen parents living in the Bridgetowne subdivision recently signed a letter critical of the response of Forsyth County Schools and the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office to a parent who boarded a Coal Mountain Elementary School bus and would not leave.

The issues began on Monday, Aug. 15, when a mother reportedly stepped onto a bus in the Bridgetowne subdivision demanding that her children be let off at a different stop than the one they were assigned to, a violation of Forsyth County Schools policy.

At the time, FCS spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo explained that for safety reasons, the district does not allow students to get off the bus at any stop other than the one assigned for that child. The district also doesn’t allow adults, parents or guardians onto a school bus.

Two transportation staff members from Forsyth County Schools were on the bus and followed district safety measures, according to Caracciolo. When the mother continued to refuse to leave the bus, the staff members contacted the transportation dispatch office over radio.

A transportation supervisor and Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office deputies were dispatched to the scene.

“The deputies arrived at the scene and were able to de-escalate the situation,” said Stacie Miller, spokesperson for FCSO. “She was able to get her children off the bus, and the bus was sent to finish the route.” Miller said the parent involved was not arrested after the incident, explaining that “deputies have the discretion on when to make an arrest.”

Miller also later said deputies felt the situation would not reoccur and no report on the incident was taken.

School officials sent an email to parents explaining the delay, which was about 10-15 minutes.

 

Parents address school board representative

In a letter signed by a dozen Bridgetowne parents sent to District 4 Board of Education member Darla Light, sent on Sunday, Aug. 28, parents laid out their concerns over the incident, saying that students were “traumatized, scared and unsure why they could not leave and unite with their parents.”

The letter also goes into parents’ criticisms of the school system and FCSO’s response to the incident, stating that parents were not informed of what was happening on the bus, other than it was delayed, nor were parents interviewed by law enforcement.

“At no time did any representative from the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, Forsyth County Schools, FCS Transportation or Coal Mountain Elementary School acknowledge the incident occurred to the parents or public; the only indication something occurred was due to a brief text message stating there was a delay, but without any details,” the letter reads. “Concerned parents did not get responses from officials until close to 48 hours after the incident and were only told it was being ‘handled.’



“But if this was an investigation, witnesses would have been interviewed. No representative or investigator from the school system, sheriff’s office, or transportation conducted any interviews of witnesses and victims, nor reached out to any of the involved parents and children as part of this so-called investigative process.”

In the letter, the parents also claimed they did not find out that no disciplinary action would be taken until reading previous Forsyth County News coverage of the incident and said the mother on the bus “directly violated Forsyth County Schools’ 2022-23 Code of Conduct and applicable Georgia statutes.”

The letter and some of the statements referenced a recent incident in Glynn County, when a parent discharged pepper spray in a school bus after confronting the driver, leading to charges of criminal trespass, cruelty to children, intentional disrupting operation of a school bus, reckless conduct and interference with government property, according to media reports.

“The parents involved with this matter, as well as numerous concerned citizens in this county, have made the comparisons between the two incidents,” the letter said. “The overwhelming consensus of these groups are that the county government has given tacit approval for her behavior.”

One mother, Ashleigh Gosdin, received a text from her son who was on the bus that said “Mama I think we are in danger” along with two videos of a lady on the bus and a police officer walking up.

“There is absolutely no excuse for someone to be able to walk up on a bus full of children,” Gosdin said. “She was screaming and cussing and had all these children scared. She needs to be held accountable for her actions. Our children should be the No. 1 priority.”

Another parent, Casey Cook, said he “could hear kids on the bus crying in fear. I was able to locate my kids on the bus and instructed them to stay down through the window.”

Bridgetown resident and mother Kaycie Karam said once her 6-year-old son “realized the cops arrived, he was scared he wasn’t going to see me again. What did the cops do? Nothing. They did nothing to protect our children.”

Parents asked Light, who represents the area, to address their grievances, requested a full investigation into the incident and said “a public apology should be made to the children and parents involved in this incident and all reasonable steps taken to address the students who endured trauma during the affair.”

In the statement, the parents said they had reached out to Light but had not received a response or acknowledgment she had received the letter.

“This is especially frightening given a recent and similar incident in Glynn County, which children were injured as a result,” said Ben Rosser, who has a daughter in North Forsyth Middle School.“Thankfully, that is not my child’s bus, but it just as easily could have been.”

On Monday, Aug. 29, the parents sent an email to FCS Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden asking for a response.

 

Forsyth County School responds

In a response to parents, Forsyth County Schools spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo said she had spoken with Bearden and Light – who apologized and said she did not receive the email but that her grandchildren were on the bus when the incident occurred – and Coal Mountain Principal Kelly Fuchs about the incident and school officials had met with the woman who entered the bus and her family.

“Mrs. Fuchs has spoken face to face with the mother,” she said. “Additionally, our staff have spoken with the father by phone. Expectations have been strongly reinforced and consequences, if there is a second situation, have been communicated. The family did request that their children’s originally assigned bus stop be moved to a stop that is closer to their home. Transportation staff informed them of the procedure to file this request, which was reviewed and approved.”

In her response, Caracciolo said “incidents like this have been extremely rare. However, if they do occur, we take them very seriously.”

“I have confirmed that while the bus was stopped, the air conditioner was running,” she said. “Two members of our transportation department were on the bus with the students, and a third arrived shortly after the deputy arrived. When the deputy arrived at the scene, he took control of the situation. He calmed the parent and got her to leave the bus steps. He then directed our driver to release the mother’s children to her. Our route then continued as planned.”

In a response before Caracciolo’s, Bearden said  “the safety of our students and staff is our number one priority and responsibility… what happened was not and is not acceptable.”

 

FCN reporter Sabrina Kerns and managing editor Tracie Pike contributed to this report.