Incident gets driver of bus fired

May 08, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

Robert Reid was a "cool" school bus driver who let his student passengers have their freedom. On the 15-minute drive from Clarksville Middle School to Columbia, the youths say, they would joke with him, and he would play dance music on the radio.

But on Monday, Howard County school officials say, Mr. Reid was irresponsible when he let 35 students off the bus on busy Route 32 -- about a mile short of their destination -- after many complained about standstill traffic.

Officials at Yellow Transportation Inc. in Baltimore fired Mr. Reid the next day for not following a company and school rule: Do not allow students off the bus until they reach their stop.

None of the youths was injured, and many were picked up by other school buses, school officials said. The daily bus route covers three miles, from the school on Trotter Road in Clarksville to the MacGills Common community in Kings Contrivance.

Two days after the incident, Frank Dawson, supervisor of transportation for the school system, gave the students on Mr. Reid's former bus instructions on safety and sent letters home with them explaining what happened Monday and the problems the incident caused.

"I'm very upset that someone responsible for our children would react in such a way," said Paula Alman, whose two daughters, Sara and Amanda, rode the bus. "It made me realize we're putting their lives in the hands of someone we don't know."

The incident occurred shortly before 3:30 p.m. Monday as the bus traveled east on Route 32 with about 50 Clarksville Middle School students aboard.

Near Cedar Lane, the bus slowed and then stopped for road construction work. After the bus had been stopped for about 15 minutes, a rowdy group on the bus began to test Mr. Reid's nerves, according to the driver and school officials.

Students in the front of the bus angered the driver and said they could walk home before the bus could get them there, officials said.

Mr. Reid then opened the doors, and the students streamed off. In all, about 35 students headed east on Route 32 as Mr. Reid pulled away in the bus.

Another bus from Clarksville Middle School that was also caught in the delay picked up about 10 of the students and informed school officials about the incident by radio. Another bus was dispatched to the area, and it picked up 10 to 15 more students.

Some of the students refused transportation, choosing to walk home or call for rides, school officials said.

"It was an unfortunate situation," said Maria Waters, whose daughter, Stephanie, was on the bus. "We were concerned. There were no sidewalks. Things like this do happen, but the school system handled it the best way possible."

The Howard County school system contracts for the use of 270 buses from 59 contractors. Drivers are employed by the contractors and cannot be disciplined by the county but can be denied authorization to drive schoolchildren.

Mr. Reid had been a licensed commercial driver for 21 years and had been driving school buses for two years. His termination came after dozens of parents complained to school transportation officials.

"I think it's unfair," Mr. Reid said Friday from his Pimlico home in Northwest Baltimore. "I hadn't been out there long. I didn't know all the rules. The [school system] always take the kids' and the parents' side before they even ask the driver."

Mr. Reid said the parents' complaints seem contradictory, since parents often would send notes with children asking him to let them out at different stops.

Mark Joseph, president of Yellow Transportation Inc., said Mr. Reid had met testing, training and certification requirements to drive school buses.

"We're as much a victim as the parents, because we had the driver who didn't use common sense," Mr. Joseph said. "We hope this sets an example to all drivers. We can teach rules and regulations, but we can't teach common sense."

Parents and school officials conceded that bus drivers have heavy responsibilities and are under a lot of pressure from such things as pranks, taunts, projectiles, rowdiness and whining.

"It's a tough job," Howard County school spokeswoman Patti Caplan said. "Have you been on a bus full of middle school students lately?"

But she added that Mr. Reid "made a poor decision."

Mr. Reid said that the students on the bus are usually quiet but that on that day, "they got on my nerves."

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