WESTPORT, Conn. – With a Westport school bus driver under investigation for allegedly making sexually explicit comments to Coleytown Middle School students last week, some parents are asking how thoroughly drivers are vetted before they are hired.
On Oct. 18, the driver of bus No. 16 made comments about his sex life and sexual activities to students, parents said. Although the driver has been suspended, several parents criticized school administrators for how the situation was handled.
Christine Kurpiel, the parent of a student on the bus, also questioned the hiring process at Dattco, the town’s school bus provider.
The company performs a series of background checks, including a 10-year criminal background check, reference checks and an FBI fingerprint check, which is required by the state to receive the proper driver’s license, said Cliff Gibson, chief operating officer of Dattco Inc. The company also cross-references the sexual predators list.
“Checking the sexual predators list is not something we are required to do, but it’s standard procedure for us,” Gibson said Wednesday. “We’re in the business of carrying school children, and the safety of our students is of utmost importance.”
At Monday’s Board of Education meeting, parents said school administrators, specifically transportation coordinator Sandra Evangelista, failed to protect the children by not pulling the driver from duty after students reportedly made complaints about his behavior that morning.
Evangelista called Dattco but did not inform parents of the incident nor did she request that the driver be pulled, parents said. As a result, parents said the driver further upset the children during the afternoon ride, so much so, several got off the bus before their stop. Others reportedly left the bus in tears.
The driver was not immediately suspended after the morning shift based on limited information received from the district, Gibson said.
“It’s my understanding that the Westport office received a call that morning from the school district that there was an incident on the bus and there was a complaint. It was not conveyed that the incident needed to be dealt with immediately.
“In the afternoon, we received more calls through the district, and once we heard about the alleged comments, we immediately made the decision to suspend the driver pending the outcome of an investigation."
The Westport Police Department is working with Dattco and the school district to investigate the incident. The driver, whose name has not been released, has been employed by Dattco since June. No other complaints have been made against him, Gibson said.
The police will decide what action to take at the close of the investigation, Capt. Sam Arciola said.
Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon could not be reached for comment Tuesday or Wednesday.