Driving a school bus is a thankless job. Even for those few-and-far-between days, when the planets align, and everyone on my bus is on their best behavior, being responsible for the physical safety of a yellow school bus, which when full of children weighs upwards of 15 tons, is a sobering experience. I’m the one who has to deal with the daily shenanigans – the insults, the pushing, the jumping around, the paper throwing – while making sure that my unruly passengers don’t create an environment that could make the day’s trip dangerous either to the other, more well-behaved passengers, or to me. It is my job to keep one eye on the students in the rearview mirror and the other eye on the road. Even on the best days, my job is challenging.
Sometimes, despite my best efforts to contain the revelry, the behavior of these school kids reaches the point where it is dangerous. When that happens, I am the adult on the bus, the one who is charged with and paid for the safe delivery of Phenix City Public Schools families’ most cherished children, and the one who has to determine how to get things back on the sage track so that I can continue my daily rounds. When those bad days happen, I have a couple of options about how I’m to proceed. My first responsibility is to try to maintain control. With a particularly unruly group, I have resorted to written warnings about the children’s behavior, which usually go unheeded by the students, their families and sadly, school officials. When bad behavior escalates, my instructions are to return to school and invite the troublemakers to leave the bus.
I had one of those dangerous days recently on Dec. 13, 2017. When possible, I like to try to reach out to the parents of some of these particularly difficult students when I see them at stops. Prior to that Wednesday in December, I had met with the father of two typically troublesome students and felt like we had made a good connection. I shook the father’s hand after our meeting and he thanked me for doing what I can to safely deliver his kids to school. I felt like we’d made headway.
Because of the way I chose to handle that difficult situation on that Wednesday when I chose to take the kids back to school because their behavior had created a dangerous environment, I’ve been informed that my job will be terminated. When that job is lost, my health insurance will go with it, and you won’t have to ponder that for long to know you wouldn’t want to be faced with that at your age, especially if you’re like me, nearing retirement age.
I’m writing this letter to make a statement about the apparent lack of discipline some students receive (…). With so little regard for keeping kids in line by the authority figures in their lives (…) my termination feels a great deal like they’re killing the messenger. I want very much to continue doing my job, and I hope my speaking out will create a public outcry for parents and Phenix City Public Schools officials to demand better behavior from their students.