Carroll schools defend bus driver's firing in motion to dismiss civil suit

March 19, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

For three months, Carroll County school officials have wrung their hands over their inability to respond to a school bus driver's accusations that she was improperly disciplined, then fired for leading middle and high school students on her routes in prayer.

It was a personnel issue, and state law prohibits the disclosure of information from employees' or contractors' personnel files.

But the filing last week by driver Stella Tsourakis of a federal lawsuit, alleging that school officials violated her civil rights, paved the way for school officials to tell their version of a story that has garnered media attention and prompted hate mail and ministers' threats to school administrators.

In a 129-page motion to dismiss the suit, filed yesterday in U.S. District Court, school officials told their side. The motion portrays Tsourakis as a bus driver who was dismissed not for praying with students on the bus, but for speeding, running a stop sign and repeatedly changing her route without the knowledge of school officials, including an unauthorized stop at a convenience store where she let students buy snacks and soft drinks while she used a restroom.

She also, more than once, stopped the bus in a turn lane near North Carroll High School between her afternoon high school and middle school routes, permitting her 17-year-old son, who is allowed to ride the bus with her, to smoke outside the bus, according to the court papers.

School officials also allege that she created an environment where students felt pressured to pray with classmates who continued praying after school officials warned Tsourakis that she could not lead them in the recitation.

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