GMT driver denies access, rides to EWSD students

A GMT bus stops at the Amtrak station in Essex Junction to pick up passengers

After rolling out a new transportation plan for area students at the beginning of the academic calendar, the Essex Westford School District (EWSD) is now dealing with a brand-new issue related to busing.

District staff confirmed on Friday that there was an incident the day before which involved a Green Mountain Transit (GMT) driver not allowing some students to ride on his bus because they didn’t have their school ID or sufficient payment.

The occurrence happened during the 3 p.m. Silver Loop trip--a route that starts at the Amtrak station and stops at the Essex Outlets, Essex center, and the Sand Hill Road and River Road intersection before heading back to the Amtrak station.

As the transportation company is in the process of an internal investigation with the aid of district officials, neither GMT nor EWSD were able to provide details about the incident when contacted by phone on Friday.

Essex resident Tiffany LeClair, however, shared what her 10th-grade son experienced during the afternoon.

LeClair says her child was at the Amtrak station--attempting to take the GMT bus home like he has done every day for the last two years. LeClair says her son, and other students, were told by Thursday’s driver that they would need to provide their student identification or pay the fare in order to ride. While students are able to take the bus for free with their EWSD ID, LeClair said her son has not needed to show it since the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.

Frightened and confused, LeClair’s son called her to explain the situation and ask what he should do.

“We said, ‘Get on the bus,’” LeClair commented. “He was nervous; he didn’t want to get on. But we were in Burlington, and I didn’t want him stranded. It was pretty chilly, and I knew he had the right to be on that bus. So I said, ‘Get a group of you, and get on.’”

LeClair says her son and other students formed a crowd and ushered their way onto the bus. Once there, the driver allowed them all to stay--except for one student, a black child, who he made get off before continuing the route. Cell phone video footage shows the driver saying that the police had been contacted, were en route, and the student could talk with them upon arrival if he did not depart.

In addition to that child who was singled out, LeClair says that three other children were left at the station--possibly being too afraid to defy the driver’s stance of requiring ID or money to get on board.

Additional video footage shows that, after leaving the Amtrak station, the driver went by a group of students near the high school and refused to stop--despite riders pleading that he do so.

“The actions of this driver to not reflect the values of Essex Westford School District--which prioritizes the safety and well-being of our students,” said Jamie Smith, EWSD’s transportation manager. “We have communicated with Green Mountain Transit to change procedure and prevent this from ever happening again. We continue to share information with Green Mountain Transit as they complete their internal investigation process.”

Smith said on Friday that he’s personally reaching out to individuals who contacted him about the incident to connect and inform them of the procedural changes. Additionally, a general message about the changes is going out to all parents in the district. He said that the main adjustment to the policy is that students “won’t, in any way, shape, or form, need to show ID anymore.”

Jon Moore, general manager for GMT, said that the company has no official statement on the incident as of Friday afternoon.

“We’ve spoken with the Essex Westford School District today, and we put a policy in place immediately that will resolve any future confusion on boarding as a school student,” Moore said. “We highly value our partnership with the Essex Westford School District and look forward to continuing transporting students in a safe and efficient manner.”

Asked whether the driver in question was still working at full capacity, and if he could have potentially been driving the Silver Loop on Friday or in the future, Moore said he could not comment based on contractual work rules.

Smith rode the 3 and 3:30 p.m. routes of the Silver Loop on Friday to connect with the students, to let them know of the changes, and to assure them that the issue’s being taken care of.

Afterwards, Smith said, “At the bus stop, and in the bus, students expressed some initial frustration and anger, which was valid. Once I explained what the district was doing, they seemed appreciative that there was a quick response.”

LeClair added that she is also appreciative of how the district handled the incident from the start.

“Jamie has been really great,” she said. “The school has been, I think, doing a good job with the situation. I think the shortfall, right now, is GMT. I know that they’re looking into it as well, but I feel as though they’re not taking it nearly as seriously as they should be or as the high school is. So I’m thankful that the high school is stepping up.”

LeClair said she spoke with a GMT supervisor on Thursday who stated that the bus has video cameras on it and that they’ll be reviewing the footage.

A social media post also alleges that the driver used physical contact with a student during the afternoon. Moore said that GMT is aware of that allegation and the potentially-racist course of action by the driver--and that those two claims are part of their internal investigation.

This story will be updated as it progresses.

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