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March 3, 2013

Bus firm: Ferris had clean record

By Mark Boshnack
The Daily Star

---- — Until a incident on an Oneonta City School District bus Thursday, monitor Heather J. Ferris, 27, of Schenevus, did not have an employment problem, an official for Birnie BusService Inc. said Friday.

Ferris was fired after being accused of using a seat-belt buckle to hit a 5-year-old boy. She was charged with second-degree attempted assault, a felony, and with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, Oneonta police said. She was released to the custody of her parents.

The boy was not treated for injuries. 

Ferris had been employed by the company since September 2011, said Dave Hildebrand, terminal manager for Birnie, which has a contract to provide bus service to the district. Like all employees, Ferris underwent a full background check, and her fingerprints were submitted to the state, Hildebrand said.  

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

Ferris attended the state-mandated class and had regular training, including refresher courses, covering all types of student management problems, he said, adding that all guidelines are reviewed at a monthly safety meeting.

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

Hildebrand said that he thinks the incident was an isolated one, but that it is being reviewed to make sure more could not be done.

Not every system is foolproof, he said, but “when something is brought to our attention, it’s going to have a swift and severe response.”

Hildebrand said he checked the bus’s camera after the  driver told him after the run that there might have been a problem. From where the driver was sitting, he couldn’t see everything, Hildebrand said. But “something didn’t feel right,” he said. There is no set schedule for review the video, he said, but if there is an immediate concern the recording is reviewed promptly.

Oneonta police Lt. Doug Brenner said the bus company has been “very cooperative with us” in providing the video.

The last incident involving the company was in February 2011, when a driver left a 4-year-old boy on a bus for five hours. The boy was uninjured, but the company responded promptly and took action, Brenner said