CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - Cell phone video taken by a student on Charlotte-Mecklenburg School bus number 418 showed a school bus so overcrowded, kids were forced to sit on the floor, in the aisle and behind seats.
“There was me and five other kids sitting on the floor, it was just pretty crowded on the bus,” seventh grade Community House Middle School student Peter Cole said.
Middle school students in south Charlotte have even been forced to sit on each other's laps.
“There were two seats that were four to a seat because someone had to sit on someone's lap,” Warner Mehal, sixth grader at Community House Middle said.
“It was really bad there was kids sitting on the floor and everyone was falling out of the seats,” Mia Price, also a sixth grader at the school said.
These students told FOX 46 Charlotte their school bus driver not only saw this, but allowed it, violating a State Board of Education policy.
“We asked him can we sit on the floor because there wasn't enough seats and he said yeah,” Peter said.
FOX 46’s investigative reporter Matt Grant confronted the driver about this.
“Why were there kids sitting on the floor of your bus?” Matt asked the bus driver.
We'll get back to his response later, but first, let's take look at the bus. According to state policy, for middle school students, the bus is only allowed 55 passengers. However, the district has assigned 63 students to the bus, based on K-5 guidelines.
The district said only 54 students actually rode bus 418 on a daily basis.
“They were three to a seat but it's really uncomfortable which is a safety issue where you have band instruments and kids with backpacks,” said the father of a sixth grade student at the school who wished to remain anonymous.
This father said he's complained for more than a year about overcrowding on his daughter's bus.
The district gave several shifting explanations when FOX 46 first showed them the photos. CMS officials questioned whether the students were "playing some type of game for attention" and said there's a "good indication the school bus is not moving" because "the driver cannot depart until all children are seated on a seat not on the floor."
FOX 46 then sent them video, showing the bus moving. The district spokesperson, Renee McCoy responded:
"Apparently students do not like to ride three to a seat and instead sit on the floor" and hide so the driver can't see. But photos clearly show students in the aisle, and remember, the kids said the driver was OK with it.
“Did the bus driver ever notice the kids sitting on the floor?” Matt asked Mia.
“Yes, one time a kid asked if he could sit on the floor and he said it was fine with him,” she responded.
No one from the district would go on camera, but they did threaten to suspend any student caught sitting on the floor.
Mia said after FOX 46 started asking questions, the assistant principal came on the bus to issue a warning: “She said you could get a write up for sitting on the floor or standing up even though there wasn't room,” Mia told FOX 46.
McCoy later admitted bus 418 "was assigned more students than it had capacity for" but said it's the driver's responsibility to "report immediately if they do not have a seat for every student."
After weeks of FOX 46 asking questions, and shifting blame from students, to the driver, the district suddenly turned around, stating they would immediately replace 418 with a "larger bus, in consideration for the comfort of students riding,” adding, "safety is a top priority."
Back to that driver -- he admits his bus was overcrowded, but wouldn't say if he ever witnessed children sitting on the floor. “They let me know there wasn't enough space on the bus and my supervisor got me a bigger bus,” the driver said.
It's definitely welcome news, for the kids who actually have to ride it. The students thanked FOX 46 for getting results, and making their daily ride to and from school a little safer.