Comment of the Day: “The Weeping Bus Monitor: A Half-Million Dollars For Incompetence”

Some critical threads on posts here depress me, and there have been two examples recently. The first is the parade of out-of-work or underemployed lawyers of recent vintage who identify with the unemployed lawyer in the Occupy Wall Street throng of last fall whose response to job-hunting frustration was to give up, hand-letter a sign and blame his law school. These commenters take special umbrage at my hardly original observation that a law degree is good for pursuits other than practicing law, and continue to insist that the degree is suddenly a handicap, as two JDs run for President of the United States for the first time since Dewey challenged FDR in 1944.

The other thread, if less vociferous and bizarre, is even more depressing. These are the tender souls who believe that Karen Klein, the inert school bus monitor shown in a viral video weeping and cringing at the taunts of the 12-year-olds she was supposed to supervise, deserves anything but scorn for stealing taxpayer money and disgracing adulthood in front of impressionable youngsters. Maybe I’ve been reading the comments for two many days, but they seem to have a theme in common, which is the avoidance of personal responsibility and accountability for setbacks and failure, and the eager acceptance of victim status in order to avoid blame and attract sympathy.

Thus I was in the perfect mood to read this spunky post from dkatt, who scored the Comment of the Day on the essay, “The Weeping Bus Monitor: A Half-Million For Incompetence”:

“Thank you! I was a bus monitor in Chicago for 8 years. I quit in ’09 when my youngest daughter was murdered there, and returned to California. I could not BELIEVE this story at all and was quite upset when I saw this woman sitting there on her a** doing nothing but cowering and looking out the window. She acted like a 5-year-old, not an adult.

“In 8 years I worked with all kinds of kids, from Head Start children to the autistic to kids in wheelchairs and this NEVER happened to me, because I would not have put up with it! I was trained, CPR certified, background checked, had to work in a pre-school 2 weeks a year, and wear a Cook County I.D. My responsibility was to transport children safely to school and that’s exactly what I did. They were told from the get-go what to expect, and to behave in a civil manner, and if they didn’t, then the first time they acted out they were written up, and these forms go to the company, the school board, and the school, so there is a record of what happened. I was NOT afraid to write up a student EVER, and once even wrote up a driver as well, a fact which our trainer could not believe, because noo ne had ever done it before.

“This woman had any number of options available to her and used NONE of them. She chose to sit there and cry and then told Matt Lauer (of the Today show) she hoped they would ‘go away’! What the hell on earth??? She created this situation by not coming down on them hard the first time they acted out and then it escalated to a point where it became dangerous for her. I wanted to shake her when I saw this, I was so disgusted and appalled.

“She was completely incompetent and never should have been there. To say she would have been fired if she reported them is total bullshit. She was too weak to do it. Her driver didn’t help her…so what? If it were me, I would have gone around him. I had drivers like that too. She should have marched in and demanded a sit down with her boss, and asked for a different route, but the point is, she could have done something, and she did not. Ridiculous.

“I lived the job for years and I know it inside out.  I made a few mistakes—I was not ‘super monitor’—but never anything approaching this magnitude. What a sad specimen of humanity. And don’t get me started on the fools who are funding her. My consolation will be the backlash that will start in a few weeks when people realize they’ve been had and want their dough back. She disgraced my former job that I took pride in, and made us look stupid. I read she was going to go back to work there. I hope to hell not. She should take the undeserved largesse and retire to the isle of denial. What a damn mental case.”

But what do you really think?


34 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “The Weeping Bus Monitor: A Half-Million Dollars For Incompetence”

  1. You finally got a comment from a former bus monitor – but one from Illinois, not the New York locale where Klein was terrorized – a double dose of confirmation bias. Congratulations!

    Maybe now dkatt will move to New York on a mission to show-up Klein, daring to have the same thing happen to her, on the same bus with the same brats, as happened to Klein. That would be a shoe-in “success” of course, now that the “beach” has been “softened” by the richly deserved outrage, scorn and ridicule directed toward the true perps in this case: not Klein, but the bus-riding, civil rights-violating brats along with the whole sick system and society that enabled the brats, with their thoroughly Klein-damning video (that is sarcasm), along with every armchair critic of Klein, to throw Klein under the bus. dkatt’s raging coulda-shoulda-woulda makes for colorful Internet theater, and nothing more. We STILL don’t know A THING about Klein’s performance history; about any build-up to the environment that made the Klein-besieging incident possible; about the constraints Klein faced in general in her particular job, or about what the video does not, and can not, show about whatever other constraints applied in the particular situation witnessed in the video.

    Jack, the difference between you and me in this case is that I am a “juror,” and a juror only. I take my ethics every bit as seriously as you do, and I hope you know that. You have installed yourself as jury, judge and executioner when, I am convinced, you, and none of us who have commented in your blog on this case thus far, have all the relevant facts. You, of all people, who have commented on how easily we can mistake what we see, or think we see, for “all there is.” I have run into too many people who interpret things like the Constitution and Bible in the way you have interpreted the video of Klein – wrong “Razors,” applied to the wrong people. About the only thing I can agree about with dkatt is that the whole story is not out, or played out, yet.

    • You’re not a juror, because beyond a reasonable doubt isn’t the standard, and never is, except in a real court. The video itself is all the evidence needed, because there are no conceivable facts outside of science fiction (maybe someone was holding a gun on her off camera!) that could explain her observed behavior, and she hasn’t even suggested any. She hasn’t said she was afraid of being sued, for example. You are carrying the benefit of the doubt to unjustifiable lengths to avoid making a rational judgment based on logic and the facts available. That’s not kind. That’s how people get away with murder, and how unethical conduct gets reinforced. The post was about rewarding misconduct. There is nothing on the video that justifies strangers, who know no more than I do, treating this woman ( “oooh, look…she has white hair! She’s old! She’s crying!”) like a victim or a hero.

      The state really is irrelevant to this situation. Klein would have been the same slug in Illinois. Nothing we have seen or know suggests otherwise.

      • No one has come forward to substantiate Klein’s alleged incompetence, either. We have only one video that leads (misleads, I believe) its observers to conclude that Klein is incompetent. This case is shaping up to being like accident investigation boards that I am familiar with: Someone dies, then gets all the blame for the accident. For all that anyone outside the board knows, the board has done its job – “case closed.” Until another fatal accident happens, another board is constituted, another investigation gets done, and another fall guy (or girl) gets the blame. Meanwhile, the root causes that need the attention and that could get addressed, remain unaddressed, and survivors have the satisfaction of inherent job security in being able to sit on the boards. I am convinced that I am giving Klein the benefit of doubt she deserves, and no more, and that based on what I know, I am judging rationally.

    • Hmm, constraints.. what were they? Were iron bars holding her down? Why couln’t she have stood up and declared ‘Stop’! Enough! You sit there and you sit there! Why are you so intent on portraying her as helpless? She allowed the ‘terrorizing’ to happen. Also noone is saying these weren’t some bad kids. We ARE saying that doing nothing at all should not have been an option for her, given her responsibility to maintain order. And coulda shoulda? Please. I stand behind everything I wrote, I did all these things, I have no incentive to lie whatsoever. No bus aide I ever worked with would have done what she did. The few like her who were not suited to the job, either quit or were fired within a week. And kudos to the ones who did quit, for realizing they were a bad fit. Bottom line, she didn’t do her job. In any emergency she would have been in the way and a dangerous liability. As for those who say otherwise, pffftt..

      • Until further information from Klein and credible others indicates otherwise publicly, I remain convinced that she was frozen in terror – an unprecedented freeze-up for her – and had in fact shown every sign of being competent on every bus ride with unruly students that she ever had to handle in the past. It’s her competence that the one video does not show, that I am convinced Klein’s critics are assuming-away here. The video shows a woman who had almost certainly reached the end of her employability in that job. On that, I agree right along with you, dkatt, and everyone else here who (unlike me) is condemning her. I haven’t paid attention to what others have said in opposition to you on this, dkatt, but I certainly have not been questioning your credibility – only, dismissing the applicability of your coulda-shouldas to Klein and the situation on video. My position has nothing to do with “trying to portray Klein as helpless,” but rather, to argue based on my interpretation of the video (the only portrayal any of us have) that she was in fact helpless, for reasons we observers still do not fully know or understand. Those reasons may have been all in Klein’s head, not real or relevant – but then, even we who have never been bus monitors know that, given sufficient external constraints on how to do a job, even the most competent employees can process the requirements of their job in a manner which enable particular on-the-job situations to cause the employee’s utter paralysis, like we saw.

        • Paralysis my Aunt Fanny.. Sluglike laziness is more like it. I once had to get up and hold up my cell phone in front of a student who was a GANG member, he was going to beat up another boy (on my bus!), and threaten to call the police. Rather than have that happen, he jumped out a window, and the driver called dispatch and reported it. Picture Klein the Incompetent doing that. I’ll bet you can’t. I did over 100 routes with as many drivers and I’ll be damned if any kid was going to get beaten on my bus. At one point I was a sub-aide for a year and sent out on different routes for aides who were absent and I handled them all. Not Superwoman or even close, I just have a low tolerance for b.s. Now ecuse me while I give myself a bad perm and practice my crying face, Lights! Camera! Action! Where’s my handkerchief? (Did I mention I’m pretty funny too? That’s what people tell me, I hope they’re not lying)..

    • Colorful Internet theatre? Righteous indignation is more like it. Have you stopped to consider that the operative watchword here is safety? In any job concerning the transport of kids safety is paramount, from coast to coast, at any school bus company. These are someone’s CHILDREN we are talking about. That this woman allowed it to become unsafe is a monumental personal failure. And I don’t know why you disregard the fact that there are THREE videos, taking over a period of time, that show her just SITTING there, reacting the same way! She was marking time, a warm body in a seat. What would she have done if there was an accident? In 8 years I assisted in 4 separate accidents, with 4 drivers, one of them incapacitated so I had to take the mic and call dispatch and handle it. Can you see HER doing that? Of course not. And that’s what the job is all about. Handling things in a safe manner. She’s a driver adjunct and is mandated to assist in any emergency. She cannot sit idly by and wring her hands or scratch her butt. In an interview with Ann Curry she made another telling comment, that she ‘avoided the kids like she avoided a LOT of things in her life’. Avoided??? Hello, whaaatt??? Let me ask you this, would you want your kids or grandkids on her bus? I surely wouldn’t. Is nobody but me and a few others listening to what she’s saying? And before you trot out the tired jealous/envious meme like an offended media virgin let me tell you I am volcanically PISSED at this!!! Envy is small byproduct here.

      • dkatt, I am not “disregarding the fact that there are THREE videos” – I am looking for the other two videos, because your comments are the only places where I have seen any indication that more than one video may be available of Klein in her monitor job. Where are the other videos?

        The best I can discern, from whatever it was you were referring to by “meme” and a couple of other turns of phrasing in your closing above, is that you may be making some additional presumptions, or “going off” on some “track,” unnecessarily.

        • I did find one other video of Klein – looks like a different day, and the voices of her harassers sound like they include at least one of the brats who “starred” in the more famous video:

          Klein looks only slightly more assertive in this more brief insight into her “work.” I am now more persuaded, but not convinced yet, that not only was Klein incompetent before the famous video, but so was someone else not shown in the videos – someone, probably more than one someone, “up the line” who failed to ensure that a competent monitor was on the bus with the kids who are in the videos.

  2. Actually, Eeyoure: I think there’s a lot of things that the video and Ms. Klein’s interviews can tell us about the case. The crying and just sitting there in the video and the victimized stance she’s taken shows to the world that she’s not mentally fit to do the job she was hired to do. I know that part of the argument is that we don’t know exactly what she’s allowed to do, but when she can’t even exert the innate authority that she possesses as an adult overseeing children, then there’s something wrong. I grant that maybe she’d had a horrible day (who doesn’t once in a while?), but that still does not justify how she reacted to the bullies. Any adult riding that bus has a responsibility to not ignore horrific behavior and should attempt to stop it. I am not a doormat, but I’m not Sheena Queen of the Jungle either, and I KNOW in my soul I would have done something.

    But Ms. Klein just sat there and cried. Doesn’t anyone think that’s odd? Especially since she’s a former bus driver, who has to exert WAY more authority and has WAY more responsibility than a bus monitor. I think she needs psychological help, not a vacation. And certainly not the media attention she’s been getting–that’s probably messing with her head too.

    I agree with Jack–she shouldn’t be in the spotlight and have half a million dollars as a result of her behavior on that bus. But I also hope that someone who cares about her is taking the steps to getting her the psychological attention she deserves.

      • TRay and Jack, I am not pretending that Klein behaved appropriately, either. I am giving Klein the benefit of doubt that she behaved inappropriately for reasons we still do not know or understand, including allowing that she either (1) had the mental capacity in those moments on video to choose to behave as she did, and did so in a manner that only 20-20 hindsight (which I would not admit one video to establish) can establish was incorrect or inappropriate, or (2) for reasons yet unknown, lacked the mental capacity to do her job competently as she had done in the past.

        • So we are all in agreement that this behavior does not warrant a half a million dollar reward? It’s not in my nature to be harsh about strangers–I would not have called her a “damn mental case.” But I cannot defend someone who is taking a boatload of money from strangers because she might have had a crappy life that caused her to be incompetent at her job. And that video is VERY telling about her ability to do her job. No one needs to come forward–YouTube has done the work for them.

          • I agree that Klein’s BEHAVIOR (or lack of it) does not warrant any reward. But I do not question the motives for the kindness of others who have provided money to Klein in reaction to the SUFFERING they observed (or believe they observed, as I believe); I can only allow a similar benefit of doubt to those charitable souls, and presume that they donated because of pity for the suffering Klein endured, without regard for her competence or incompetence. I still think it is unfair toward Klein to judge her as “mentally competent but occupationally incompetent” based on the one video; I do agree with the hunches of many others who have commented, that there surely were preceding, presaging events and signs which set the stage for what we saw.

          • I did not even think of calling her a ‘mental chase’ until I had been savaged on 2 other Forums in a feeding frenzy by rabid do-gooders. I was called selfish, nosy, dense, told to eff off twice. And those were some of the milder comments! And these Forums concerned articles criticizing Klein.. amazing. These people not only want to hold Klein up as a martyr, they want to stifle dissent on other Forums too. Why are they so defensive? Maybe deep down they realize she truly did nothing and really doesn’t deserve it. They take PC way too far and presume to tell people they shouldn’t dislike anything, they display true lemming behavior. They also don’t like that I actually did the job in question and now know more about school bus companies than I ever wanted to know and that I have a modicum of intelligence and a high I.Q. I am majoring in Sociology, getting the degree, making straight A’s (except for that lousy B in Health) and doing well. Except when I see things like this. Thank you for making my comment ‘Comment of the Day’, by the way! Awesome honor!

            • They aren’t thinking at all, in my opinion. It’s an emotional reaction. If this were a man, the reaction would have been ridicule. She looks 80; she has white hair; she appears helpless. They aren’t focusing on the fact that she was obviously unqualified for her job. Radio talk show hosts love the theme of spoiled, entitled kids—the conservatives see the episode as proving that liberal parenting and school policies have made discipline impossible, and liberals bleed red anytime anyone who is female, elderly or a minority is in distress, whether it’s their own doing or not. A perfect scenario for distortion and misplaced sympathy.

              • You dismissed and dissed so much there, especially in your first five sentences, you almost damaged MY ethics alarms. (sarcasm follows) Let’s dismiss everything conservatives and liberals say about this case, because no matter what they say, it’s guaranteed to be too tainted with distortion and misplaced sympathy to be of any relevance.

                • No, I said the reverse: the comments are so obviously driven by distortions and misplaced sympathy that they should be dismissed. You just have to read the original outpouring—yours included. “Pity” is devoid of concern for such niceties as responsibility and blame—your opening salvo in this thread was about pity.

                  • What?! The video is clear and complete enough to show that Klein was inflicted with every kind of suffering that characterizes gang rape, with the sole exception of bodily penetration. If you’re calling that distortion, then I wonder what you call it instead. Saying that sympathy (for Klein) is misplaced (“she deserved it”) is simply, absolutely monstrous, no matter what her competence status before or during the attack.

                    • DOUBLE “What?!”!!! Gang rape by pre-teens? Words the equivilent of penises? Children the equivilent of adult felons? What in the name of all that’s rational are you TALKING about? You’re trivializing rape and glamorizing cowardice. Her “suffering” is irrelevant unless it was warranted, which it wasn’t, and beyond her ability to stop, which it also wasn’t.

    • I noticed that right away, when I watched the video. Also in the interview with Lauer, and her ‘go away’ comment. Where were they to go? It made my jaw drop. She acted oddly and appeared befuddled. Something is wrong, I definitely agree..

      • Which supports my argument that what we saw on video was Klein’s unprecedented, on-the-job “competence seizure” – the end of her qualification for THAT job – NOT the end of a long and “successful” career of ripping off the public by doing nothing, ever.

  3. I’ve watched the whole video and read ALL the comments and commentary … this “bus monitor” should be fired – not lauded and rewarded! I feel no remorse for her! She was paid to do a job. She failed miserably! At the first instance of insubordination from the brats on the bus she should have DEMANDED that the bus driver stop the bus. Period. The offending kids should have been removed, with the assistance of school personnel an/or law enforcement if necessary, and disciplinary action should have been swift and stringent. She was put on the bus to ensure the safety of ALL of the children on the bus. Instead, she sat there, cried, and became a victim, creating a situation, BY HER OWN ACTIONS, which could have put the rest of the non-offending students in danger. What is wrong with the idiots who are sending this fool money?! Has the whole world gone crazy?

    • Exactly! And thank you! I did that job and was the polar opposite of her. If it sassed or challenged me I wrote. It. Up. And the kids respected and LIKED me for it. I had more than a few kids actually cry when the school year ended and they weren’t going to see me every day. The authority you make is the authority you TAKE.

  4. Good afternoon Jack. Just read an article on HuffPo about the man who raised the money going to Klein’s house and am happy to report that the tide is turning! People who agree with us are starting to outnumber the ones with no common sense! I knew it would happen, (as you did too). Massive backlash countdown, 3, 2, 1.. made my day.. Big smiley face.

  5. In her now daily scintillating tv interview, K. Klein, in a brilliantly composed response to the question of how she would respond to those who criticize her, says, ‘I guess that’s what they’re saying’. Subtly nuanced, yet hard hitting. Applause. When asked what she would like to say to those boys she says she would ask them ‘why did you do it, why’. Well because YOU let them lady! And here she is fanning the fire of hatred for those kids by declaring ‘they can do better’. Wow. Does she not really understand that they are getting death threats, and they are serious threats? I think deep down this sad sack of beady eyed dough is very cunning. Bad kids, yes, punishment, definitely. Death? Of course not! I so dearly wish I could go on a talk show opposite her, I would eviscerate her verbally. She wouldn’t weasel out of MY questions. They could throw that lousy professional fundraiser in there too, I’d take ’em both on. So says the former bus monitor.

    • This must be one of the other videos you are referring to:

      It’s easy, I believe, for most of us observers to imagine a hypothetical, minimally competent monitor doing a more effective job than Klein appears to be doing in this video. But she does not appear to be helpless, nor does she appear utterly incompetent – just not sufficiently competent. She obviously fails to command the situation effectively to ensure the safety of the ride for all who are on board. She is failing to communicate clearly enough to the young riders, and to the bus driver, that the riders’ behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

      So if I had no choice but to make a conclusion based on what I believe are three separate days when she was shown on video in her job, I would conclude (agreeing with you, dkatt) that she should be replaced. But in any case, I also hold culpable additional adults not shown in the video – primarily the bus driver(s) and school district officials responsible for the bus monitors’ and drivers’ adequate performance – for enabling the students’ unruly behavior to occur repeatedly without consequences sufficient to correct and prevent its repetition and continuation. It is an open question as to what extent Klein’s lack of competence may have further resulted in those to whom she is accountable being “blindsided” by evidence of her ineffectiveness – that is, caught unaware that there was a festering discipline problem on the bus rides Klein monitored. Perhaps the district has ineffective plans and procedures for “monitoring the monitors” for assurance of adequate monitor performance.

      • In this type of job there is no ‘minimum competence level’. Either you can do the job effectively or you can’t. Either you can move your keister after an accident to check on the kids and the driver and figure out what to do or you can’t (she obviously couldn’t). But in this case if there were no cameras onthe buses there was no way for bus company admin to know for sure what was going on, especially in the absence of complaints about either her or the driver. If there WERE cameras, the tapes should have been reviewed on at least a weekly basis for any problems. I saw the videos on a split screen, with. A snippet of each, and Klein with the same uncomprehending look on her face. The Internet meme in this case, of course, is the ‘face of bullies suffering’ I.e. our Mrs. Klein. I am thoroughly sick of this story and wish she would take the money and go away. She is a weird dim bulb, thoroughly odd, and just loathsome to me. And little Maxie the Altruistic should shut down that Indiegogo account, and go make money somewhere else. I love his stement that will leave it open tho, while not emphasizing the fact that he makes money too, until the last day..

      • This is reasonable, except that I find your distinction between Incompetent and “not competent enough” bewildering. They are one and the same. If you’re not competent enough to fly an airplane, defend a murder defendant, drive a car, do brain surgery, invest your life savings…well, then you’re not competent to do it, which is the definition of incompetent.

        And accepting a responsibility you are incompetent to complete is unethical.

      • ThatOf course there was a festering problem on the bus, the huge issue here is if you are doing your job correctly, there is not supposed to be! A problem like this is one that should have been handled from the beginning. We had it hammered into our heads that we should discuss our expectations from the kids from the first day and if you don’t do that you are lost. They were allowed to push her boundaries until she had none left. If you fail to assume power and authority do you think someone will come and say to you ‘here, there’s your bowl of power’? Also her driver, yes I have had a few who did not help me, and they do nothing out of laziness and unwillingness to discipline kids and she could have gone around them, she knew this because she had been a driver!!!!

      • I think you have been openminded and you get credit for making thoughtful points. I am going to bow out of this, however, because I am not in good health anymore (diabetes, arthritis, heart) and I am awaiting a return trip to Chicago to attend the murder trial of the non human who killed my daughter and her boyfriend. She was only 19. I need all my strength for that and this story has gotten me too upset. I feel I am more than qualified to comment because I did her job and ran rings around her (figuratively) I was her polar opposite, I had a few things in common with her, (widow, lost a child, Grandma of 8, a little chunky but younger) but the similarity ends there. I shook things up at the job I saw wrong and reported it/wrote it up. Some people didn’t like that but I don’t care. I had kids to take care of and I let nothing get in the way. I know I stress the safety issue, and not to be dramatic, if a bus had crashed, or was on fire, etc, my first instinct would have been to get those kids out! A person who’s not willing or able to lay their life on the line has no business doing that job. It’s that simple. Karen Klein couldn’t even handle a few miserable brats, what would she have done in an emergency? Nothing. Nothing at all. And that’s shows the worst ethics of all. Uncaring. Anyway, good luck and happy commenting.

          • Thank you for the opportunity to comment! I try to live up to my own standards, so I can live with myself. I just have an issue with people giving up, I hate to see that. It happened here, with an ironic twist. The trial will be so hard. I don’t think I’ll be talking to media anymore, it’s just too much.. Rest peacefully my Angelina, (11/21/89-9/21/09 forever beloved) ..

      • I watched this and she is sitting in the back, at least. but it was obvious that this had gone on a long time and was out of control. Let’s say she was absent one day and I was a sub on the bus, I would have taken my own video and sent it to my boss immediately. I had my boss’s cell number and sometimes texted her with issues. I hope these kids get punished and suspended from e bus a long while, among other things. I also hope they donmt get hurt by crazies. The driver needs to be fired, now. He knew exactly what was going on. Training at this bus company needs to emphasize teamwork. I could write a book about what goes on at bus companies. Maybe i will.

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