Karen Klein talks about the bullying incident in her home Wednesday afternoon. JAMIE GERMANO Staff Photographer
By VICTORIA E. FREILE and MEAGHAN MCDERMOTT, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
GREECE, N.Y. - A video of teens harassing a Greece Central School District bus monitor is making the rounds online.
WEB EXTRA: Link to YouTube page with video (warning: video contains explicit language)
WEB EXTRA: Link to IndieGoGo donation account to send Karen on vacation.
WEB EXTRA: See local bullying expert Dr. Lisa Krueger talk about this story
Greece police and school officials have questioned some students believed to have harassed a Greece Central School District bus monitor.
An online fundraising effort to assist a Greece bus monitor verbally abused by students raised more than $305,000 in over 24 hours.
The effort was set in motion by a video of 10 minutes of profane taunting endured on Monday by bus monitor Karen Klein. The Greece school district held a news conference on Thursday.
Police say Klein does not want to press criminal charges. Greece Police Captain Steve Chatterton said the four 13-year old boys have been cooperative. All have met with police along with their parents, without lawyers. "They've taken responsibility for their actions. As one father put it, his son is sitting back waiting for his punishment. So no one has denied accountability," he said.
Klein didn't report the behavior and said she figured she had just ended the year on a bad note.
But one of the kids on the Greece Athena Middle School bus captured the incident on a cellphone camera. The video got pulled off of Facebook late Tuesday and was posted to YouTube. By early Wednesday, it had gone viral across the world. By Thursday morning, it had been viewed more than 1.5 million times.
In the video, Klein does her best to ignore the harassment.
"I was trying to just ignore them, hoping they would go away and it doesn't work," Klein said. "Trust me, they didn't go away."
The vile chorus included profanity, taunts, insults, jeers, physical ridicule and outright threats to Klein's person and home.
"The kids weren't always that bad," she said Wednesday.
"The first we learned of the incident was by email Wednesday morning," said Greece Central School District Assistant Superintendent Deborah Hoeft. Two similar videos of Klein being harassed were also unearthed.
District officials called in police and Klein and the bus driver.
An investigation was launched. Students were questioned by police.
"This behavior is inexcusable and a clear violation of our code of conduct," said Hoeft. Any punishment meted out by the district would be enacted in the new school year, she said.
Greece police Capt. Steve Chatterton said that if criminal charges were filed, it would likely be in Family Court because the youths involved are juveniles. Chatterton said that some potentially serious charges would require that Klein had felt threatened. Klein said Wednesday that she did not feel threatened by the students.
Klein, a grandmother of eight who lives in Greece, herself learned of the video through Facebook. She didn't watch it until she was summoned to the bus garage.
"It was like 'wow,' " she said. "I can't believe it happened ... It was just plain mean. Nobody should have to put up with that."
She said she didn't hear all of the taunting while it was happening because she is hearing impaired.
Mike Maynard, business agent with Teamsters Local 118, the union that represents Klein and more than 700 other support staff in the Greece schools, said he was "just as outraged as everybody else" by the video. He said it was not uncommon for kids to be "a little rambunctious" at the end of the year, but that he'd never heard of any behavior as outrageous as what was captured on the video.
"I feel terrible for Karen and wish it never happened to anyone," he said. "No employee here should ever have to tolerate anything like that from the children."
As the video circulates around the world - it drew more than 238,000 hits by late Wednesday night - multitudes of people have sent Klein Facebook friend requests and notes expressing sympathy and support. She also received several bouquets of flowers from strangers who were moved by the images.
An online effort on the international crowd funding site Indiegogo.com to raise money to send her on a nice vacation raised more than $400,000 late Thursday.
The site was set up by Max Sidorov, a 25-year-old Toronto nutritionist who found the video Wednesday morning on the social news website Reddit.
"I saw the video and really felt for Karen," he said. "I have some experience with bullying from when I was young and what they were doing to her was just heartbreaking. The best thing I could think to do was start a fundraiser to send her on a vacation."
The outpouring of support has far exceeded his expectations.
"It is just huge," he said. "I thought it would get a few thousand dollars, maybe. But maybe she could retire on this."
In a recorded statement to district families, school officials said they have received more than 1,300 messages from all over world about the incident.
Klein worked as a Greece bus driver for 20 years and as a bus monitor for the past three. She said she's been "kind of numb" through all the attention, and that after watching the video she thought "it must have been a miracle that I didn't lose my temper" with the kids.
Her daughter, Michelle Hawkins of Greece, said she was appalled at how the youngsters treated her mother.
"It's just not right," she said.
Klein was interviewed by Good Morning America and appeared on the show Thursday morning.
She is also scheduled to appear on the Today Show and is scheduled to appear Thursday with Anderson Cooper on CNN and on Fox & Friends.
As for the vacation fund, Hawkins said her mother was considering a Disney cruise for the whole family. She said the response to the situation shows that being nicer is the way to go.
Julia VanOrman, president of the Greece school board, said she's been inundated with outraged messages and emails from people infuriated by the video and calling for the students to be harshly punished.
She hopes the incident can serve as a teachable moment for a wider discussion on how to treat other people, children and adults alike.
"Instead of letting what happened rip us apart as a community, I hope it helps bring us together," she said. "This (incivility) is a problem not just in this district but of the nation, and what are we actually doing about it," she said. "... What are we all going to do to make sure this doesn't happen on another bus in another school district tomorrow?"
Klein's neighbor Caroline Putman said she heard about the video Wednesday morning, watched it and found it "disgusting."
She's "a very nice lady and doesn't deserve that," Putman said. "She's been a good neighbor."
She said the involved students "should never be allowed to ride the bus again."
Klein said she didn't want the students to face criminal charges, but would like to see them "grounded all summer, or maybe all year."
And, Klein said, she would love an apology.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle/ YouTube