Carroll County bus driver decertified by school system

Student safety cited in relieving Tsourakis of driving qualification

March 09, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin and Sheridan Lyons | Jennifer McMenamin and Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Stella N. Tsourakis, the Carroll school bus driver who was embroiled in a dispute for leading her middle school passengers in a recitation of the Lord's Prayer for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has been told she cannot drive for the county any longer.

Tsourakis has been decertified -- effectively firing her by revoking her permission to drive a school bus for the county -- by Carroll school officials, who say they are concerned about the safety of her passengers.

She is still employed by Schaffer's Mulch and Bus Co. near Westminster and will continue to drive for it on private charter runs. Carroll school officials would not specify the exact cause of the decertification.

Tsourakis and her attorney contend that she is being persecuted because she is a Christian. She began driving the bus in October, and school officials learned of the prayers shortly thereafter.

Told to stop

Tsourakis was told to stop and did as ordered, but she said the children have continued to pray when they arrive each morning at Shiloh Middle School near Hampstead.

She has been reprimanded at least twice and criticized for a number of infractions -- for stopping to use a restroom at a convenience store during her route, for dropping off a sick child first before starting her usual route, for having a paper cross and students' papers posted inside her bus, for pulling over at an unsafe place, for driving 5 miles above the speed limit, for arriving at school too early and for insubordination, she said.

School transportation officials have monitored her driving, but they said that is done with all bus drivers, especially new ones.

"This is a witch hunt; it's an out-and-out Christian witch hunt," said Steven L. Tiedemann, her attorney and an affiliate of the Alliance Defense Fund, a national Christian civil rights organization.

School transportation

Tsourakis, 37, who lives near Manchester, said she arrived at her bus company yesterday and was told to meet with school transportation officials, where she was told of the decertification.

"I feel sad," she said. "I feel like a yo-yo. It needs to stop. Before the Lord's Prayer, why wasn't I being followed? Why wasn't I being reprimanded?"

Charles I. Ecker, Carroll's interim school superintendent, said, "We've taken what we feel is appropriate action. It's not about religious freedom. It's not about constitutional rights. It's about the safety of the children on her bus.

"I'm concerned about the safety and welfare of the students on that bus."

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