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Boy, 12, charged in bus stabbing

7th-grade victim in stable condition

A 12-year-old Boston public school student out on bail for two alleged crimes, including armed robbery, was charged yesterday with stabbing another student twice in the chest during an early-morning scuffle on a school bus.

The sixth-grader, whose name was not released, pleaded not guilty in West Roxbury District Court and bail was set at $1,000. However, his previous bails were revoked, and if he makes bail he will be remanded to the custody of the Department of Youth Services.

The victim, a 12-year-old seventh-grader, was in stable condition at Boston Medical Center, said Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley.

The stabbing occurred at around 7:15 a.m. as the bus carrying the two 12-year-olds pulled up to the Washington Irving Middle School in Roslindale. As the driver opened the door to tell a teacher how many students were on the bus, a fight broke out, according to an incident report filed by the driver with First Student Inc., the company contracted to transport Boston public school students.

The teacher and school police boarded the bus and were told by students that the sixth-grader had a knife, according to the report. A nurse checked the seventh-grader and said he had been stabbed. The driver, whose name was not released, said he did not see the fight.

School officials said yesterday that the district does not have a specific policy on how to handle students who have been charged with crimes. A student convicted of a felony is expelled from school.

In reporting the stabbing, the bus driver also complained about overcrowding on the bus, saying some students were standing up because there weren't enough seats for them.

But Michael Contompasis, the district's chief operating officer, said that according to reports the fight broke out at least 15 minutes before the bus driver pulled over at the school. "A lot of buses are crowded," whether they're school or MBTA buses, said Contompasis, "But that's no excuse. If a fight breaks out, it is the driver's responsibility to pull over and call the police. The driver shouldn't let the fight go on."

Still, parents and Boston's school bus drivers' union said the district should have more monitors on school buses.

"Parents are concerned about their children's safety," said Myriam Ortiz, an organizer with the Jamaica Plain Parent Organizing Project. "If buses are an extention of the classroom, where's the responsible adult supervising the students?"

Facing a major school budget crisis this year, the district switched busing companies, from Illinois-based Laidlaw Transit Inc. to Ohio-based First Student, and pared down the number of buses -- from 623 last year to 612 this year -- to save $10 million in transportation costs.

But as a result, some bus routes are longer and some buses are crowded, said Steven Gillis, president of the the Boston School Bus Drivers' Union. "The routes are sped up so that they can try to fit more and more kids and make more and more stops," Gillis said. "It is a safety issue, because when you get kids in this type of situation, they get tense and there are behavorial problems."

School officials, who estimate that it would cost at least $11 million to staff all buses with monitors, said they were not aware of any overcrowding or long bus delays. But they said they are uncomfortable with the number of students currently on some buses.

"We don't ever assign students to buses that would cross over the legal limits," said Boston Public School spokesman Jonathan Palumbo. But he said the limit of 70 in larger buses may make it harder for drivers to maintain order.

Last year, the city paid $51 million to transport about 35,000 students to and from campuses. According to district officials, 623 public school buses made about 4,000 trips a day. About 10 percent of those trips had bus monitors, most of them to supervise special-needs students. The stabbing yesterday comes one week after a shooting outside Charlestown High School after dismissallanded a student in the hospital. Police have not made any arrests.

Boston Superintendent of Schools Thomas W. Payzant said yesterday that the district needs help quelling disputes before they flare up, he said. "We're going to do our part in schools," Payzant said. "But we've got to get support throughout the community."

Owen Toney, a parent organizer with ACORN, a national neighborhood group with a branch in Dorchester, said bus drivers can't be responsible for both driving and breaking up fights.

"Drivers can't see what's happening in the back and keep their eyes on the road," said Toney. "There needs to be paid, trained staff on buses to deal with any issue kids may have."

At the same, "with the budget crisis and with school cuts and teacher layoffs, it is really difficult to push the district for more monitors," he said.

But that's exactly what bus drivers would like to see.

"The problems in society and on the streets are playing out on the buses," Gillis said. "Putting monitors on buses is not only safe, but sensible."

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