"Communication failure" delays board response to school bus incident

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Angry parents at Tutt Middle School want to know why their children were forced off the school bus on Thursday, April 13.

Several parents met with administrators Monday morning to find out what happened and whether the bus driver will be punished.

The school board wouldn't allow the media in today's meeting.

Both parents and students were asked to write statements about what happened and sign releases preventing them from talking publicly until the investigation is complete.

It took three days before the Richmond County School System began investigating why some Tutt Middle School students say they were scared into getting off a bus miles from their bus stop.

"We need a system in place where this school system is covered 24/7, regardless of weekend or holiday," says board member Kenneth Echols. Echols, whose district includes Tutt Middle, called it a communication failure within the school board after learning of the problem through the media.

Several parents and about 18 students met at the middle school Monday morning to find out why parents weren't given any answers.

"Administration needs to step forward and have a statement on what's going on," Echols says.

Parents tell News 12 that substitute driver Robert Lynch stopped the bus in front of the Time Saver convenience store on Boy Scout Road.

He allegedly told the students, "If you want to get off, then get off now."

Students say they were scared of his behavior and got off the bus. They say the driver grabbed two students by the arm and shook them. Both got away...and one climbed out a window.

The bus driver tells us it was his first time driving that route so he was unsure of the stops.

Regardless, Echols says there's no excuse.

"I'm sure it was a horrible thing that happened to them and I'm sure some were out of control but there's a process in place. They can call public safety for backup," Echols says.

But Lynch's former employer at the Burke County Transportation System says Lynch worked for them for more than a decade and always did a good job.

"Robert's a good person. He's very well-liked in the county."

But that's not the same driver some students say they saw last Thursday.

Robert Lynch refused to make any statements on camera, but he denied all of the allegations.

He argued that he was having problems getting the kids under control and that he notified the assistant principal before he ever left the school.

Echols expects to have everything worked out sometime this week.