Mother reports a racist incident at school; Full investigation has begun

Tahjae Hines. (Photo provided by Talesha Dennis).

A mother of a Cortland Enlarged City School District (CECSD) student has reported a racist incident that she said occurred on a school bus last Thursday.

On the afternoon of Thursday, April 21, Talesha Dennis went to pick up her youngest daughter Tahjae Hines from her school bus drop-off area.

Talesha provided details from that afternoon to Friday, April 22 in a recent interview with The Cortland Voice.

Once Talesha picked up Tahjae, a student in the Cortland Enlarged City School District (CECSD), she immediately noticed something wrong with her daughter. When Talesha asked Tahjae what was wrong, her daughter started crying.

In the process of being covered in tears, Tahjae told Talesha that the school bus driver “made me move my seat for the white girl.”

“I wanted to sit there,” Tahjae continued. Talesha asked her daughter to repeat the situation again so she heard it right. Tahjae also mentioned to Talesha that the school bus driver made her “uncomfortable.”

Talesha said that she took action by driving up to the front of the school bus, which was still in the parking lot after the drop-off. 

According to Talesha, she asked the bus driver what happened. The bus driver, according to Talesha, responded by saying that he “had kids that needed that seat.” The bus driver proceeded to move Tahjae to another seat, which was in the “back of the bus,” based on the conversation that Talesha had with the bus driver.

Talesha noted that she ended the conversation by saying “you will be hearing from me. This is not OK.”

Talesha proceeded to call the CECSD’s school bus garage. Talesha broke down the situation to transportation supervisor Jordan Lilley. According to Talesha, Lilley said “I understand you’re upset. I’ll talk to (the bus driver).”

Talesha told Lilley that just talking to the bus driver “is not enough.” 

“He was being racist toward my daughter,” she added.

At one point in that Thursday afternoon, Tahjae said to Talesha “Mom, I know how Rosa Parks felt.” Talesha then began to cry after hearing those gut-wrenching words.

To Talesha’s knowledge, Tahjae is only the black child on that school bus. Talesha said that Tahjae has sat in the second row of the school bus, which is two rows behind the bus driver, since the beginning of the school year in September. According to Talesha, her daughter was the only one who moved her seat on the bus that day.

Talesha described Tahjae as “quiet.” Her oldest daughter Shantya Pittman went to CECSD’s bus garage to speak with Lilley on Friday.

According to Shantya, Lilley told her that she never heard Tahjae’s name prior to Thursday, which indicates that Tahjae hasn’t caused any problems on the bus. Based on what Lilley told Talesha’s oldest daughter, Lilley only knew names of the students who got into trouble.

When Talesha spoke further with Lille, the bus driver allegedly told Lilley that Tahjae “doesn’t give the driver any problems.”

On Friday, April 22, Talesha told The Cortland Voice that she drove Tahjae to school before heading to work. While on the way to school, Talesha recorded a video of her daughter crying. “(Tahjae) didn’t want to go to school,” Talesha said.

Following Thursday’s incident, Talesha hopes CECSD will provide additional training on working with different people and different races.

According to CECSD Superintendent Bob Edwards, the school district is currently conducting a full comprehensive review of the case.

Edwards also provided a statement on Saturday to The Cortland Voice following Thursday’s incident:

“As you know, we are dedicated to ensuring every student learns in a safe and nurturing environment while in our care, including on the bus, in their classrooms, and everywhere in between.

I have spoken with our Transportation Supervisor and asked him to provide me with a full report based on his information. He is in process. I have also been in contact with our administrative team to make them aware of the concern brought forth. 

Our greatest concern always is the wellbeing of our students. I am saddened that one of our students was caused to feel upset.”

Edwards continued by saying he plans to reach out Tahjae’s parents in the hopes of meeting with them.

“We are on an ever-evolving journey to be better for our students and for our community,” Edwards added. “This scenario will allow us an opportunity for deep reflection. More than all else we will be sure that our student knows our care.”