BRICK – One local mother is making some noise, trying to bring attention to what she considers a big safety issue for Brick students.
On Oct. 28, 2019, Katie Zeoli’s son was attacked on the school bus while on his way home. Her son, a sixth grader at Veterans Memorial Middle School, called her in tears to tell her what happened.
“When I answered I was having a hard time understanding him because he was crying hysterically. He told me that another student punched him in his face which led to him being on the floor in the back of the bus where he was then choked,” Zeoli told Jersey Shore Online.
Her son was pinned to the floor of the school bus while the kids around him chanted “fight, fight, fight” and one took a video of the incident. No one tried to help him, she said. The ordeal finally came to an end when the bus came up to her son’s bus stop and he ran off the bus crying.
After the fact, Zeoli attempted to figure out what had gone so wrong to cause her son so much trauma while under the care of the school district. According to her, the bus driver was oblivious to the incident.
“The child said his reasoning for doing this to my son was because my son was talking to a girl he liked in the hallway about gym,” said Zeoli.
Zeoli reached out to the school and the transportation department, which then wrote up an incident report and moved her son to the seat directly behind the bus driver.
Her son went back to riding the school bus the day after the incident.
A few days later, Zeoli heard back from the school principal who had managed to get a copy of the video that was taken by a student on the bus. After seeing the video, he told her that her son did absolutely nothing wrong.
Zeoli herself is not able to see the video in order to protect the privacy of the other student, she was told by school officials.
“Although he was unable to tell me what the student’s consequences were, I know that he got suspended. However, he was back on the bus the Friday after the incident,” which added up to a two and a half days suspension, she explained. “That is not enough.”
Board of Education member Melita Gagliardi told Jersey Shore Online that the board could not comment on the matter at this time, as the district is on break.
Following the incident, Zeoli came to the conclusion: “These busses need cameras.”
“This past Saturday [Nov. 2] I went to the mayor’s breakfast to express my concerns. The mayor and his council were extremely helpful. One of the council members is a Brick school liaison and is going to look to see if we have funding available,” Zeoli added.
She is networking her way to school and governmental officials who have the power to make change on the issue. In the meantime, Zeoli has created and shared a petition on Change.org in order to garner enough signatures to get her concerns heard by Governor Phil Murphy.
On the petition, Zeoli wrote: “What if this happened to your child? Chances are, this has happened to your child. Maybe once, maybe daily but this is something that needs to be addressed now. We as parents expect our kids to be safe on the school bus. This isn’t the case.”
Her goal now is to get interior and exterior cameras added to all Brick school busses.
“Buses are extremely small spaces with a captive audience and a bus driver whose focus is on the road. It should be mandatory that every school bus is Brick Township has both interior and exterior cameras installed in their buses. That would be about 90 buses in total,” she wrote.
The interior cameras would help keep the students on the bus in check without placing that responsibility on the driver. The exterior cameras would even help curb another issue: cars passing or not stopping for school busses on the roadway.
According to Zeoli, the money the district would spend to install the cameras could be easily made back simply by the amount of people caught not stopping for the school bus on the exterior camera.
But, most importantly, there will be video evidence when incidents occur.
Zeoli wrote: “In at least 21 states it is mandatory to have these cameras installed. That alone should suggest how beneficial this is. The average cost per unit per bus can be as low as $850 and as high as $7000 per unit per bus. What is the cost to keep our kids safe?”
It has been over a week since the incident between her son and the other student transpired and Zeoli said that nothing has been done extra to protect her son, or even other students, while on the school bus.
While she initially planned to press charged against the 11-year old attacker, she decided against it.
“If it happens again, I will,” she said.
But for now, Zeoli is hoping to solve the problem by nipping it in the bud with surveillance. If it became mandatory for all districts, not just Brick, to have cameras on the bus, Zeoli said “I would absolutely love that.”