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March 6, 2013

Bus incident raises many questions

The Daily Star

---- — Any time we learn about a child getting hurt by an adult, it’s natural to get angry and look for someone to blame and punish.

So last week, when we read in this newspaper about the alleged incident aboard an Oneonta City School District bus involving a monitor hitting a 5-year-old boy with a seat-belt buckle, we got angry.

Heather J. Ferris, 27, of Schenevus, has been arrested and charged with second-degree attempted assault, a felony, and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, according to Oneonta police.

The boy was not seriously injured, but according to his mother, had a black eye.

How could such a thing happen? What kind of person would do such a thing to a little boy? What kind of company would employ someone like that? Didn’t somebody do a background check?

All good questions, but it’s important to take a deep breath and look at the facts.

Fact No. 1 is that this is America, and a person is considered innocent until proved guilty. There is, of course, no valid reason to injure a child, but we will leave it to the legal system to determine whether it could have been accidental or was done purposely.

That said, it doesn’t look good for Ms. Ferris, given that the alleged incident was captured on videotape, causing the police to make an arrest and for her employer, Birnie Bus Service Inc., to fire her.

It would be easy to fault the bus company for hiring her in the first place, but it would appear that Birnie Bus, which has a contract to provide service to the district, acted responsibly.

Ferris underwent a full background check, and her fingerprints were submitted to the state, said Dave Hildebrand, terminal manager for Birnie Bus.

“We don’t have anyone here unless they have a clean record,” he said. “We don’t want anyone that has any issues.”

Ferris’ name appeared in The Daily Star in 2008 for an arrest for petit larceny. That information was not included in the report from the state, according to the bus company.

Ferris attended a state-mandated class and had regular training, including refresher courses, covering student-management problems, Hildebrand said, adding that all guidelines are reviewed monthly.

“We take this issue seriously,” he said, adding that the company has “zero tolerance” for any inappropriate issues and conduct. He said there is nothing more important than the safety of the children.

It would be wise for Birnie Bus to examine its procedures and redouble its efforts to ensure children are kept safe. But unfortunately, no company can offer an ironclad guarantee that a similar incident won’t happen again.