Report of racial epithets probed

November 10, 1994|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore County school officials are investigating allegations that a substitute bus driver used racial epithets to describe unruly Pikesville Middle School students when she refused to take them home last week and returned the bus and the students to the school.

The substitute driver, Theresa Beggs, 55, denied making the comments. But the bus ride has ignited a controversy at the school, where about a dozen concerned parents attended a PTA meeting to address the issue last night.

At the meeting, it was also alleged that the bus was driven with the emergency door open for about a minute. Shelton Tate, the father of one of the students on the bus, said he had spoken to many of the children in the neighborhood. "The emergency rear door was wide open!" he said. He also said that having a bus driver who made racial remarks was not appropriate.

Another parent, Isaiah McKenzie, said the conflicting accounts of the bus ride did not surprise him, and added that the matter should be taken to an administrative body higher than the PTA.

On Friday, according to students and school officials, Ms. Beggs picked up 48 students, nearly all of them black, from the school in the 7700 block of Seven Mile Lane, and drove toward their Lochearn-area homes. About a third of the school's enrollment of 1,000 is nonwhite.

During the ride, some students threw paper at Ms. Beggs, who is usually a secretary at Woodlawn Motor Coach, a contractor that supplements the county's bus fleet. Ms. Beggs became exasperated.

But the students and Ms. Beggs do not agree on what happened next.

Rita Tate, a 12-year-old seventh-grader who was on the bus, said Ms. Beggs stopped when she saw a radio-equipped bus on the other side of the road, opened the window and told the other driver that "she was taking all of us [racial epithet] back to school." Several other students who were on the bus gave similar accounts.

But Ms. Beggs said that she did not used any epithets. She said she warned the students that if they didn't stop hitting her with paper balls, she would take them back to school. When the situation did not improve, she said, she headed back.

"Then they started chanting and calling me [profane] names," she said.

She also said the door was opened after the bus was moving. "Somebody unlatched the door. I had to slow down gradually. I couldn't jam on the brakes, because someone could have fallen out."

Several students and Mr. Tate said the students, once they returned to the school, were detained in the cafeteria for about an hour and were not allowed to make phone calls or use the bathroom. But assistant principal Mary O'Melia denied that students were prohibited from leaving the room.

On Monday morning, school principal Ann Glazer notified Rita Fromm, manager of the school system's transportation department, of the students' allegations.

"I don't want to dismiss this situation, but I don't want to accuse anyone . . . Really, it's up to the transportation department to see if anything was done inappropriately," the principal said during an interview in her office yesterday. "If it's true . . . I don't think it's appropriate.

"Whatever race or religion, they should not be slandered. But again, I don't know if in fact she said it." After the meeting, Ms. Glazer said that she does not want Ms. Beggs to drive the students again.

Ms. Fromm said she will investigate further but added, "I don't know that we can ever get the stories to match." According to Dr. O'Melia, all students on the bus last Friday are being interviewed by school officials, and Ms. Fromm said she would again interview Ms. Beggs.

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