Bus Company, Fired By County, To Appeal To The State

Route Driver Refused To Transport A Sick Old Mill Middle Student

January 28, 1991|By Dianne Williams Hayes | Dianne Williams Hayes,Staff writer

A bus company fired for refusing to transport a student with a severe medical handicap has asked the state superintendent of education todraw the line on what kinds of problems its drivers must handle.

The county board voted Wednesday to revoke a bus contract with JosephB. Edwards Bus Service of Crownsville for one of his seven routes, based on poor performance.

The problem stems from an April incident, when one of the driversrefused to transport an Old Mill Middle School student suffering from encopresis, a disease that limits the ability to control one's bowels.

The disease can be caused by a variety of neurological, psychiatric or muscle problems.

After being left at the bus stop, schoolofficials reported, the student returned home and did not report to school that day.

"From the beginning, Mr. Edwards was trying to get help, and he was unable to," said Ed Hartman, the driver's legal counsel. "He wants to continue driving that route, but he wants help. The driver made the decision (not to pick up the student) on her own, but Edwards decided to make a point of it, to bring it to a head."

The board decided to revoke Edwards' contract after a December hearing at which he refused to honor a request to have the driver transferred.

Edwards said Wednesday that he has been asking the board to provide an aide for the student for years. He said he stood behind thedriver's decision.

"I just wanted the kid to get help, and to gethelp for us, too," he said after hearing the board's decision. "I'vebeen asking for help for years for that kid. We've been dealing withhim from the beginning."

The problem came to a head when his driver complained that the student's medical problem caused a disturbanceon the bus.

"The problem caused other children to go running around screaming and to throw the windows open," Hartman said. "The bus driver can't drive that way on a busy highway. It's a dangerous situation. It overwhelms her; her primary responsibility is to focus on the road.

"We have two issues here, one is about safety and the other is legal. All he wanted was something as simple as an aide on the bus. The child has a severe medical handicap."

Edwards has been under contract with the school system for 21 years. His six-year contract with the board expired in September, and a new one was signed that same month.

Winship Wheatley, the school system's supervisor of transportation, declined to comment on the case.

Hartman charged that the board revoked the current contract based on performance under an old contract, and that it should have done more to address the hardship placed on the driver.

Hartman said he is drafting an appeal to State School Superintendent Joseph Shilling. If the appeal fails, he said they are prepared to take the matter to court.

Edward Holshey, principal of Old Mill Middle South, said the problem is being exaggerated by the driver.

"The child absolutely does not need an aide," Holshey said. "It's a pretty sensitive issue, and we're doing ourbest for the child. We and the contractor couldn't see eye to eye onhow the situation should be handled. There was difficulty with one particular driver. There are no problems with the one we have now."

But Hartman said he is determined to have the board live up to the contract signed for this school year.

"We feel there is no legal orfactual basis for the termination of the contract," he said. "The real victim is the child, but the only way to get things done was to fight the Board of Education. (Edwards) wants to keep his bus contract,and he wants to do it right."

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