BATESVILLE – On March 12 an alleged physical confrontation occurred between South Panola School District bus driver Walter Corner and a minor student, hereafter referred to as John Doe.
John Doe’s parents filed assault charges against Corner and the two appeared in Municipal Court to discuss the issue. The judge continued the case until April 21 in order to allow witnesses to be called.
Since that time, Corner has been "terminated" as a school bus driver after 21 years on the job.
He has been employed with the school district for 26 years and is now working for the district in positions in which he will not come in contact with students.
Corner wrote this letter regarding the incident and submitted it to The Panolian.
"To the citizens of Panola County, my name is Walter Corner. I have been a bus driver for 21 years for the South Panola School District. I’m sure most of you are aware of the incident that occurred on my bus.
"I have assigned seats to all students. They are to sit there everyday unless I tell them otherwise.
"However, in this case, the student did not abide by the rules of the bus driver. He had to be written up for breaking the rule. This made the student very angry.
"He told me I did him wrong. I stated to him, he was not done wrong. He would not sit down as he was told.
"After all other students loaded the bus, he became more and more angry. He began hitting me over and over on my head with my cap on.
"I’m trying to put the bus in park and the student keeps on hitting my head. I’m still buckled up. Finally, I get my seat belt off.
"After getting out of my seat belt, he’s still hitting me.
"When I stood up, I tried to restrain him, however, he’s very angry and he keeps hitting.
"I pushed him back from me in order to let Mr. [Darrell] Tucker, the principal from the Junior High School, and Mr. Jessie Wright on the bus to assist me with this student. This is the incident that occurred on my bus."
After the incident that day, both Corner and John Doe exited the bus.
In a written notice to Corner, transportation director Robert Chapman cited a list of rules Corner allegedly broke.
Rules cited were insubordination, quarreling with students, controlling tempers, not reporting undisciplined students to principals, putting hands on students, being fair to students, striking a child and corporal punishment.
Corner said he was never angry at the child and did not strike him.
In the heat of the moment, Corner said all those rules cited were not going through his head as he tried to wrap his arm around the student and restrain him.
"I was not even heated up or anything. I try to get myself not to be angry or anything. The only thing I tried to do was get up to restrain him. The only thing I was trying to do was restrain him to stop him from hitting me on my head, repeatedly, even when I was trying to unfasten my seat belt, even when I was trying to put the bus in park, even when I was trying to put the bus park brake on, even when I was trying to put the bus in neutral, even when I was trying to cut the motor off.
"I was trying to get up and he was still continually hitting on me."
Corner said this incident was started because he wrote the child up and turned him into the principal’s office.
Corner had allegedly been having trouble with the student and had been in telephone contact with his parents on what actions to take regarding the child.
According to Corner, John Doe was accused of using obscene language on the bus and Corner said he opted to okay a form of discipline with a verbal okay from the child’s mother.
That discipline included putting the child on the front seat for 10 days. When all was said and done and this continued three more times, John Doe had 15 total days to sit on the front seat starting February 13 of this year.
"I was just trying to help the child out," Corner said.
"After 12 days, he went to the back of the bus," Corner wrote in a note to Chapman. "This was on March 8. I said nothing to ____. I then wrote up a bus discipline report on him. This is what happened. He had only three days left to sit on the front seat."
Before John Doe began hitting Corner, Corner said John Doe used the obscene f word saying,
"You done me wrong. I got to sit on this f____ seat."
"He was saying I have to sit here for the rest of the year," Corner said. "All I said was I didn’t do you wrong."
Bus drivers are charged with assigning students seats on the bus, according to Corner.
"After everybody got on the bus, he walked up closer to me and he just started," Corner recalled.
Corner said John Doe reported to someone that he had accidentally knocked Corner’s hat off when he threw his hands up.
"His hands were coming down," Corner said. "An accident is when you soon say excuse me. Number one he should have been sitting in his seat."
Corner illustrated how he was trying to restrain John Doe and wrap him up in his arms to stop his arms.
"But I couldn’t though. I saw Mr. Tucker coming. In order to get him back so I could open the door, I shoved him in the face to get him back and then I was the one who opened the door."
Corner was asked is that why John Doe is saying he was attacked because he put his hand in his face?
"I think he thinks I was hitting him. I wasn’t hitting him. I was pushing him away," Corner said.
Corner has not had a conference with superintendent Dr. C.L. Stevenson on the matter but has met with Chapman.
Corner said Chapman never directly asked him what happened. In the termination letter, Chapman referred to testimony of a high school student who said Corner pulled John Doe to the front seat.
He never asked you once what happened?
"Not directly," Corner said. "He said he got some statements from the children."
He got statements from the children but not from you?
"Not really, not from me," Corner said.
Chapman said he spoke with Corner immediately after the incident and asked him what happened.
How does that make you feel?
"Like I am out on a limb by myself. I am out there all by myself. I have to swim by myself," Corner said.
Corner was listed all of the rules of the book about what he did after the fact, but he said he never asked what he should have done.
"He just said you have to watch your anger. He didn’t ask if I was mad or anything because I have never gotten that mad with anybody on that bus, a child or anything like that. I was not angry. I was surprised and taken off guard, but angry, no," Corner said.
In response to the corporal punishment statement, Corner said assigning a pupil to a seat is not corporal punishment.
"What if he had had a pencil? He could have punched me in the neck or something,"
At this juncture, Corner said he just feels numb.
"Sometimes I just don’t want to be around anybody. You especially don’t want to be around anybody in the school. You are limited. You have no freedom."
Corner said he feels like this one incidence in 26 years is ruining his reputation with children and with some of the parents.
"The ones who really know me they are not saying that. The people at Pope, Batesville Intermediate and the high school, people out in the community that know me they know I am not like that," he said
"You never know until you are in this situation," Corner added. "Some people handle it different ways. I tell you it’s rough. I have lost sleep over it at night. I’ve lost weight. It’s not a good thing. I wouldn’t wish this on any one. The only thing I think would make this easier is for somebody to stand behind me."
Corner questioned if he was so bad with the children on the bus, why hasn’t he gotten some complaints?
"I have had no parents come and complain about me," he said.