The mother of a 6-year-old boy police say was threatened by an 8-year-old with a pocket knife on a Farmington school bus said the school should have done more to protect her child.
Thomas Ward, superintendent of Regional School Unit 9, which includes W.G. Mallett Elementary School, said the bus driver’s response is being reviewed and that the young offender will not be allowed back to school without proper safety precautions in place.
Shauna Cloutier, of Farmington, said she and the 6-year-old live next door to the 8-year-old, who Farmington police have charged with terrorizing.
She said that her son, whose name she wouldn’t give, was frightened but appears to be rebounding well.
“He loves everybody,” she said. “He’s so friendly.”
She added that her son is much smaller than the 8-year-old.
“He’s a little string bean,” she said.
Cloutier’s son gave her the details of the incident, which took place Tuesday morning.
“He put the knife to his throat and said he was going to kill him,” she said. “It’s pretty disturbing to hear your child say things like that.”
The bus driver said when he saw the knife, he told the 8-year-old to put it away and called ahead to the school. When the bus arrived at the school just a few minutes later, administrators separated the boy from the other children and then took the knife away from him.
Cloutier said that the bus driver should have immediately confiscated the knife.
“I don’t think the situation was under control at all,” she said.
Ward said he agrees that the bus driver could have reacted better, but said the situation was so unexpected and unusual that it fell outside of routine training procedures.
He said he is talking with school district’s transportation director about whether the driver should be disciplined in any way and said that some sort of response will be formalized in a follow-up letter.
Ward said the better reaction would have been for the driver to instruct the student to reliquish the knife and then, if he refused, to pull the bus over immediately, while continuing to ask for the knife.
“Then, if the student refuses, then you need to contact the bus garage and say we’ve got a critical situation,” he said.
While the driver didn’t take the optimal approach, Ward said, it is the type of situation that is more clear in retrospect than it might be in the moment.
“We weren’t sitting in his shoes at the time and witnessing what he was witnessing,” he said.
The bus driver said he didn’t hear or see the threat take place, according to Ward.
The 8-year-old was apparently sitting in a seat by himself, two seats behind the bus driver.
“He was kneeling with his back to the driver and basically showing his jackknife to kids,” Ward said. “The bus driver heard the other kids say so-and-so has a knife, so he saw him in his rearview mirror showing everybody his knife. His first reaction was ‘put that away.’”
Ward said that once the boy sat back down he was effectively isolated from the other children and under the driver’s watchful eye, which minimized the risk.
Many of the school buses in the district are equipped with video cameras, but that bus was a spare and had no cameras.
Cloutier was also critical of the amount of time it took for her to be contacted.
She said she didn’t get a call from the school until 11:30 a.m., hours after the incident.
“They were questioning my son and I didn’t know anything about it,” she said. “It took them almost three hours to contact me and they sent my son back to school.”
Ward said the school administrators were involved with other steps in the response, including contacting the police and the state Department of Health and Human Services, which prevented them from reaching Cloutier sooner.
The 8-year-old has been suspended from school for 10 days, which Ward said is the maximum period allowed short of expulsion, which the school tries to use only as a last resort.
“Usually, a student this young, you don’t go that route,” he said.
While the student is suspended, he will be tutored and will also be tested by the school as part of a risk assessment. Ward said he would not be allowed back to school unless a risk assessment demonstrated that letting him back in will not put other children in danger.
“The most important thing is, obviously, this child needs some help,” he said.
In the meantime, Cloutier said the incident has drawn a division between and the family of the 8-year-old, which lives next door.
Both families have three children. In the past, Cloutier said the two boys weren’t close friends but were part of a larger group of children that played in an area shared by residents of their 15-apartment complex.
Now, Cloutier said, she is not talking to the neighboring family and is trying to keep her children away from them.
Her son still recalls the details of the incident, she said, but he appears to be okay.
“I rode the bus with him the next day. I don’t want him to be petrified,” he said. “We told him we’re going to do everything to keep you safe. He has trust in us.”