Enjoy heartbreak? Be a school bus driver

The racist taunts between a school bus driver in Moorhead, Minn., and his passengers has brought out school bus drivers in the area willing to tell the story of what the job is like.

The driver who made all of the kids get off at an industrial park in Moorhead has been fired from the job, and he’s acknowledged he made a mistake getting into a shouting match with them and dropping the “N-word.”

Apparently, it’s a job you either love or you hate, judging by Fargo Forum commentator Mike McFeely’s article today in which he talks to an 84-year-old woman who recently retired after 30 years of driving a bus in Moorhead.

Ninety-eight percent of the kids are great, Bev Olson told him. But that 2 percent is tough to take.

There was the boy in West Fargo who wasn’t supposed to be on her bus, so Olson called the school principal to remove him. As he was leaving the bus, the boy told Olson: “You know, my dad kicks the (crap) out of my mom, and I could kick the (crap) out of you.”

There was the girl at a Moorhead school who was unruly, so Olson scolded her.

“I’m going to kill you,” the girl responded.

The girl didn’t follow through on the threat and, in fact, later apologized in the presence of her mother, who also apologized.

“I had rules, and I made the kids stick by the rules,” Olson said. “I was not the nicest bus driver. But that’s the way it was.”

McFeely says Olson is no fan of the school district’s transportation director and doesn’t like the way the school superintendent has handled the situation. Superintendent Lynne Kovash has apologized to the students on the bus.

Asking a bus driver to pay attention to the road while trying to control unruly kids is a Herculean task.

So, McFeely says, a driver has to be “a cop, a counselor, a social worker, a friend, a referee and a mentor to the children on their bus.”

“I had one girl who was always the nicest little girl. She didn’t cause any problems. Just a sweetie,” Olson said. “One day she was being a hell-raiser, a troublemaker on my bus. Just completely out of character. So as the kids were getting off the bus I told her to wait a second so I could talk with her. I asked what was going on, that she was always such a good girl. She started crying and said, ‘We’re getting a divorce.’ What a heartbreaker. So I hugged her. What else could I do?”

The bus company owner says if he can get a driver to stay on the job for at least a year, they have difficulty giving up the gig.

But apparently you have to have a thing for heartbreak.

She once had a developmentally disabled girl start taking her clothes off because it was hot on the bus—and some boys were egging her on. Another time, Olson bought a winter jacket for a student who didn’t have one, but noticed after a couple of weeks that the boy wasn’t wearing it anymore.

“What happened to your jacket?” Olson asked.

“My dad sold it to buy dope,” the kid said.

  • Rob

    I am soooo glad there are folks who have the temperament for doing this vital job. The word “hero” gets tossed around a lot, but school bus drivers such as Olson surely need to be included in the category.