A hot-tempered school bus monitor with a growing record of misconduct was allowed to keep supervising kids despite charges that she berated investigators and struck a child with a video game cord, officials said.
Leida Torres, 53, is an attendant on buses transporting special needs students, an assignment that generally requires more patience. But insiders said she has a short fuse and is routinely uncooperative.
Torres’ angry antics included a school bus incident in January when she lost her temper and struck a child with the cord from an X-box video game controller, according to a complaint. Torres insisted she was the one who was abused, but not before she lit into an investigator for asking questions about the incident.
“The escort got very nasty and uncooperative,” investigator Eugene O’Brien wrote in records obtained by the Daily News. “She began screaming that she doesn’t have to talk with investigator. Escort (was) extremely combative and fight oriented.”
Torres was suspended pending a hearing.
O’Brien then spoke with Torres’ union rep who also told him Torres has “extreme anger issues and she will disappear for awhile,” the records show.
The case was closed as substantiated on Feb. 27, the records show. Because she didn’t show up for a formal hearing, her status was changed to “ineligible.”
But then on March 20, Investigator Dominick Ragusa ordered the case reopened for unexplained reasons.
Torres’ winding saga goes to the heart of problems plaguing the Office of Pupil Transportation which is reeling from accounts that it is lax with wayward drivers and attendants at the behest of the school bus companies, insiders told the News.
“The lesson of this case is that there are people in the DOE whose interests lie not with students or parents, but with the bus companies,” investigator Eric Reynolds said of the Department of Education. “We have clear guidelines on how to handle these cases, but these people don’t want the guidelines followed. Every time we try to address it, we are undermined.”
In 2015, Torres was on a bus that got into an accident. In the course of making a record of the scene, she started taking pictures of the children, sources said, a significant departure from the rules.
She was decertified following a hearing, but, sources said Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose overruled an aide in her office, and reinstated her at the end of 2017, the sources said. Rose has since been reassigned to a new role as senior transportation contracts adviser following a series of Daily News articles on problems in the pupil transportation office.
For her part, Torres said there were no kids in the pictures.
“I’m 53 years old. I know better than that,” she said.
Shortly after her reinstatement, Torres was accused of hitting a child with the cord. But she blamed the students.
“I was be abuse by student on the run,” she wrote, records show. “I was never abuse or hit any student on the bus.”
The bus driver that day backed her up, but no students or staff were interviewed, records show.
On April 26, Investigator Richard Barrabi reinstated Torres, again for unexplained reasons.
“Based on the interviews conducted, the escort’s status has been changed from deleted to active,” Barrabi wrote.
Torres reiterated Thursday that the charge was made up. “It didn’t happen,” she said.
Barrabi declined to comment.
On Aug. 7, Torres allegedly erupted in anger at school staff at Public School 36 in the Bronx and didn’t follow the proper protocol for picking up and dropping off children. A staffer called in the complaint because she was fed up with Torres’ unpleasant behavior throughout the semester, sources said.
“The attendant would come off the bus and not wait for the staff,” an investigator’s report said. “One day school staffer approached the attendant to make sure that the children are left with the staffers. The attendant then became irate and very argumentative.”
Two PS 36 staffers told investigator Eric Reynolds that Torres was “continually hostile, antagonistic and refuses to follow school protocol,” records show. It was only then that the office learned that she had been reinstated earlier in the year by Barrabi.
She was suspended yet again in a letter dated Aug. 9 which called the misconduct “serious,” records show.
Torres on Thursday blamed the school staffer for the dust-up. “When I went to the school, the lady was running her mouth to someone else,” she said. “She came by the door and she said I have to talk to her. I said we don’t talk to people like that. She was rude to me.”
On Aug. 17, she submitted to an interview by Reynolds. Records show she refuses to discuss the incident with investigator O’Brien. “She is very hostile and agitated,” Reynolds wrote. “She keeps accusing us of being biased against her.”
Torres went on to deny striking the children with the video controller cord on Jan. 30. “She refused to elaborate, claiming it’s in the past and God will judge it,” Reynolds wrote.
The records indicate the Torres repeatedly interrupting his questions. “The attendant wouldn’t allow for a complete interview due to her interruptions and accusations of bias. She called (me) a liar.”
Torres refused to write out a statement.
On Aug. 20, Torres was sent a letter which said she had been decertified for hostile and uncooperative behavior. She has a pending appeal and may yet be reinstated again.
When Ralph Manente, the head of the unit told Barrabi of the pending appeal hearing, Barrabi said he wasn’t going to go to it, sources said.
City Education Department spokeswoman Miranda Barbot said Torres was decertified in August following unacceptable behavior towards school staff but allegations of violence against a child have not been substantiated against Torres.
“It’s our job to provide safe and reliable transportation for students riding our school buses and we’re committed to improving that process,” Barbot said.
Barbot noted that the city recently fired and replaced a top official charged with overseeing the city’s yellow bus system and said the city is conducting a thorough review of its policies in order to better investigate and address any inappropriate behaviors.
Torres said the city is just throwing her under the bus.