A Bulloch County special needs school bus driver was arrested Wednesday on child cruelty charges after reportedly striking a child on his bus.
According to a statement by Bulloch County Schools spokesperson Hayley Greene, Transportation Director Janet Tanner viewed the bus video and saw driver Joseph Ricardo Austin, 44, of West Jones Avenue, “pull the bus over to a stop, walk to the back of the bus and hit a student.”
The student attended the Cedarwood GNETS program alternative school.
There was also a bus monitor on the bus, who contacted school authorities Friday around 2:20 p.m. after witnessing the incident.
“The bus monitor told the lead driver, ‘You may want to pull the video for Bus #071.’ The bus monitor did not provide any further details,” Greene said.
Tanner viewed the tape Monday around 12:30 p.m. and saw that around 8:56 a.m. Friday, the driver stopped the bus, walked back and hit the student, Greene said.
“According to the video tape, this was the only incident” involving any alleged abuse of a student, she said.
Tanner contacted Phillip Tremble, the school system’s director of human resources, and reported the incident to him. Tremble and Paul Webb, director of operations, then viewed the tape themselves.
Tremble then instructed Tanner to contact the Bulloch County Department of Family and Children’s Services.
“Dianne Hardee with DFACS stated that she would contact the Statesboro Police Department and report the incident,” Greene said. “Hardee also asked Tanner to contact the Atlanta DFACS’s Child Protective Center and file an official report.”
The child’s parent was also notified of the incident.
Austin was suspended Monday afternoon, on his one-year anniversary with Bulloch County Schools, and after an investigation, Bulloch County Board of Education members voted Thursday night to terminate his employment. The bus monitor who reported the incident was also suspended by administrators.
Statesboro police responded to the incident and Detective Jared Akins launched an investigation, arresting Austin on Wednesday on charges of first-degree cruelty to a child (causing excessive pain), according to Statesboro police reports.
Austin was taken to the Bulloch County Jail, where he is being held without bond, according to Bulloch County Jail records.
“Just as the school system’s educators receive training in classroom management skills, all of the district’s bus monitors and bus drivers receive annual training on how to properly manage behavior on their buses,” Greene said. “The school system’s school social workers and behavioral specialists provide bus drivers and bus monitors annual training in mandated reporting, crisis prevention intervention, and verbal de-escalation techniques. The driver of Bus #071 had participated in these trainings.”
All county school buses have cameras that monitor activity, she said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.