Four middle school students who were caught on camera verbally abusing their bus monitor have been suspended for a year and will be required to complete 50 hours of community service, school district officials said Friday.
Karen Klein, 68, who makes around $15,000 a year as a bus monitor in the town of Greece in Monroe County, was subjected to name-calling and other verbal abuse by four students from Greece Athena High School. The group of students, who filmed the incident and uploaded it to the social networking website Facebook, called Klein "fat" and "poor" among other insults.
At one point in the video, one of the students tells Klein she doesn't have a family "because they all killed themselves because they didn't want to be near you." Although she did not hear it at the time, this comment was particularly upsetting to Klein because her son committed suicide about ten years ago.
The video on Facebook was uploaded to the video-sharing website YouTube by someone else to draw attention to the incident. It quickly went viral online, having received more than 4.3 million views as of Friday afternoon as U.S. and international media began to cover the video which has outraged people around the world.
Before the video went viral, an online fundraising campaign was set up by 25-year-old Toronto nutritionist Max Sidorov. "She doesn't earn nearly enough to deal with some of the trash she is surrounded by," he wrote on the campaign's page. "Lets give her something she will never forget, a vacation of a lifetime!"
Sidorov initially hoped to raise $5,000 for Klein but, as the video and the story went viral around the world, tens of thousands of people made a donation. As of Friday afternoon, more than $550,000 has been raised with still 28 days left until the campaign on Indiegogo.com ends.
The Greece Central School District released a statement on Thursday in which it said it has been touched by the outpouring of support for Klein. "We share the country's outrage over the behavior displayed on the videos," it said. "We are deeply sorry that Karen was subjected to that kind of treatment."
The statement went on to say that the school district has identified the four students involved in the incident and assured they will face disciplinary action. "Disciplinary action to the fullest extent appropriate under New York Education Law will be taken against all involved," the district said. "However, as we stated yesterday, it is not appropriate for the district to discuss the specific disciplinary consequences that will result for any individual student."
Klein said she wants the students to be kept off the school bus and be forbidden to play any sports for at least a year. "Somebody mentioned community service and I thought that was a pretty good idea too," she told CNN on Thursday night. "I want them to make sure they never do this again to anybody."
The incident is also being investigated by the Greece Police Department, but Klein has said she does not wish to press charges. "I feel kind of bad for them and their families because of what is going on," she told the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper in New York. "They are being harassed terribly, and I don't like that. I figured this was probably punishment enough, you know? And I don't want any harm to come to them. Yes they were nasty to me, but it's over and done. I hope this is a lesson to be learned."
Meanwhile, two of the students involved in the incident have apologized for their behavior. "I am so sorry for the way I treated you. When I saw the video I was disgusted and could not believe I did that," student Josh said in a brief statement, as quoted by CNN. "I am sorry for being so mean and I will never treat anyone this way again."
A second student, Wesley, also released a brief statement. "I feel really bad about what I did. I wish I had never done those things," he said. "If that had happened to someone in my family, like my mother or grandmother, I would be really mad at the people who did that to them."
Wesley's mother and the father of Luis, a third student, also released brief statements in which they apologized for the behavior of their children. "I cannot even tell you how badly I feel. I am deeply sorry for what my son did. I wish there was some way to make it up to you," Wesley's mother said. "I am embarrassed, angry and sad about the awful way he treated you. I am truly sorry."
In addition to the donations made through Indiegogo.com, Southwest Airlines has offered Klein and nine relatives a trip to Disneyland in California for three nights, including airfare, hotel and rental car. A local mall also plans to honor Klein with a $500 shopping spree and a basket filled with products from several stores.
Picture: Screengrab CNN