Suit claims girl forced off borough school bus

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The Naugatuck Board of Education has been named in a lawsuit filed by a borough woman over an incident with her daughter on a school bus last June.

NAUGATUCK — A borough woman is suing the Board of Education and Student Transportation of America claiming a bus driver last year insulted her seventh-grade daughter in front of her classmates and kicked her off the bus at an unauthorized stop.

Barbara Whitaker filed a complaint March 28 on behalf of her daughter, who was a seventh-grader at City Hill Middle School last year when the incident occurred. Whitaker’s husband, Bruce Whitaker, is a borough police commissioner.

The bus driver, Renita Hilse, is also named in the complaint, which states Hilse was dropping students off last June 8 when she stopped the bus and accused Whitaker’s daughter of ripping tape off the backs of seats on the bus. After the girl denied doing so, Hilse called her a “little turd” and stuck a piece of the tape in question to the girl’s arm.

Other students on the bus heard the exchange, and the girl began to cry and asked to call her mother, according to the complaint. Instead, Hilse dropped her off, forcing her to walk back to the middle school, according to the complaint.

Hilse left the girl on a two-way highway and did not notify anyone she had been dropped off prematurely, according to the complaint.

A bus conduct report, included in the complaint, states Hilse had been reviewing videos to determine who might have ripped tape off the seats and saw Whitaker’s daughter in one of the seats. When she asked the girl to fix the tape, the girl refused “with attitude,” according to the report.

“I said you’re going to fix it you little turd,” Hilse wrote in the report, adding that the girl then cursed at her and said other “nasty” things.

In a letter of apology to the Whitakers, Hilse wrote she never intended to embarrass or harm their daughter.

“My mom always called me a little turd and it made me laugh,” Hilse wrote. “I was trying to loosen the situation up a bit.”

Hilse left STA shortly after the incident, said operations manager Ron Tymula, who was not working in the borough at the time.

The Board of Education did not turn over the bus conduct report as part of Freedom of Information request last August by the Republican-American for reports of all bus incidents from the past school year. The newspaper received 38 reports, none involving incidents after March 16. After the newspaper requested similar reports from City Hill Middle School for the same school year, Principal Christine Blanchard, who is also named in the complaint, said the school had nothing on file.

The incident on the bus caused Whitaker to pull her daughter out of borough schools, sending her instead to a cooperative school in New Haven where no one knew of her “humiliating experience,” according to the complaint. The girl is also receiving counseling, the document states.

The complaint also names Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson and Rocky Vitale, former chair of the school board’s transportation committee, who no longer serves on the board.