Bus driver sues Carroll officials over her firing

She, parents assert right to pray with students

March 12, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Stella N. Tsourakis, a Carroll County bus driver who lost that job after leading students in the Lord's Prayer after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to be reinstated, claiming school officials violated her constitutional rights and those of her passengers.

The parents of six students have joined the suit against county school officials, saying the bus driver and passengers should have the right to pray together. They allege their rights to freedom of speech, association, assembly and exercise of religion were violated.

The plaintiffs are seeking an unspecified amount of damages, said Steven L. Tiedemann, a Westminster attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian civil rights group that will pay legal fees. Tsourakis, 37, who lives near Manchester, seeks reinstatement, lost wages and a clean personnel file.

She began driving for Carroll public schools in October and decided to lead her Shiloh Middle School passengers in a prayer for the victims, posting the words. She was told to stop - and did, she said - but pupils continued to say the prayer without her. Then, she said, students on her North Carroll High route began to pray, too.

Tsourakis was told Friday that she could no longer drive a bus for county public schools because she had been decertified after disciplinary run-ins with school officials. She remains an employee of Schaffer's Mulch and Bus Co., driving private charters.

School officials said their actions had to do with students' safety, not prayer, but they said they could not discuss a personnel matter further unless Tsourakis signed a form giving her permission.

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