A recently released video shows a formerPolkCountybus attendant hitting, pushing, biting and pulling the hair of a 14-year-old on the bus.
The incident happened at the end of last school year. Today the bus attendant is facing a child abuse charge.
As the school bus sat in the loading zone atLakelandHigh Schoolon June 2, the 14-year-old student flipped a 5-year-old boy over the seat. When he did so, the boy’s legs hit the bus attendant, and she thinks it was done intentionally.
“He done hit me!” Hattie Yvonne Branch is heard saying on the school bus video. Branch, the bus attendant, is then seen lashing back at the teen.
“Stop, Yvonne! He didn’t mean to do that!” pleaded Charlene Wimes, the school bus driver. Wimes tried to stop it, but Branch is seen the video striking the teen and pushing the student into the seats.
“He didn’t mean to do it!” Wimes shouted.
“Yes he did!” is Branch’s response.
In the video, Branch continues to hit the teen, reportedly biting him twice on his back, leaving teeth marks. She is seen pulling his hair and finally grabbing ahold of him by the neck, before letting go.
We tried speaking to Branch at her home. “I have no comment. Talk with my lawyer,” Branch tells 10 News.
“Ms. Branch is sorry about her behavior, that this child got under her skin,” says Julia Willamson, Branch’s attorney.
What provoked Branch to lash out at the student? According to the police report, the teen admits to threatening and cursing out Branch in the past, but not on this day. School district officials say Branch did file a complaint against the student with her immediate supervisor once before, but still they say her reaction was out of line.
“That was an action outside the scope of her responsibility,” says Fred Murphy, Assistant Superintendent with thePolkCountySchool District. He adds, “There were other options available to her in the loading zone that could have helped her. She could have requested help from the school she was at. She could have requested help from the SRO [school resource officer]. None of that happened.”
“This child and her had some disputes in the past, verbally… things of that nature, the child not following the rules,” says Williamson.
The school bus is filled with special needs kids. These are students with physical, mental and behavioral issues. Williamson says, “He was on the school bus with younger kids for disciplinary reasons.”
District officials say there’s never a reason for Branch’s behavior. Murphy says, “It is a very stressful job, a very difficult job. We appreciated what bus drivers and bus attendants do, but we still have to expect as the adult in charge, we are going to act appropriately.”
Branch has a pre-trial hearing October 25. She and her attorney hope to reach a settlement. Branch has pleaded not guilty.
The school district says during Branch’s nine years on the job, she never had any disciplinary problems.