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Colleagues stand by dismissed bus driver

Incident with kindergartner prompts firing

Video footage of a Spokane school bus driver repeatedly forcing a special-needs kindergartner into his seat has cost the man his job.

The firing this month has sparked uproar among fellow bus drivers who say it’s unclear what’s appropriate when handling disruptive children. The drivers are contemplating forming a union as a result, they say.

Jim Schroeder, a former employee of Durham School Services, which is contracted by Spokane Public Schools for bus services, said he was trying to stop the boy from picking on other children.

“I know what I did, and I know I didn’t hurt anybody,” Schroeder said. “I got punished for doing the right thing.”

The video shows a bus with about a half-dozen kids. One boy – the kindergartner – roams up and down the aisle, poking, pushing and grabbing at other children. Buses for special-needs students are equipped with seat belts, and children are supposed to be buckled in when the bus is moving.

Schroeder scolds the boy numerous times, but the behavior continues throughout the ride. When the boy makes another child cry, Schroeder is seen grabbing the boy by his shirt and pushing the boy into his seat three times, making the boy cry.

“I do know that my adrenaline level was pretty high because there was a lot going on,” Schroeder said.

Spokane Public Schools and Durham officials think Schroeder acted inappropriately.

“Transporting children, particularly very young children, requires that our drivers behave in a manner that is beyond reproach, particularly when a driver determines that a situation requires physical contact with a child,” said Blaine Krage, a Durham spokesman in Illinois. “The nature of the driver’s physical contact with a special-needs student went far beyond any conduct that could be justified by the situation.”

School officials asked that the driver be reassigned to another account so he wasn’t working with children in a school district. Durham decided to fire Schroeder instead.

Durham school buses are equipped with two video cameras. Footage is viewed on a regular basis to review bus drivers’ behavior, Krage said.

On this occasion, Schroeder said, supervisors were looking at the video from earlier this school year because he’d complained that the elementary school-age special-needs children on his bus were too difficult to manage alone. On some special-needs buses, an attendant is provided to help with children.

Schroeder’s old bus route, in fact, now has an attendant, and the boy Schroeder was accused of being too rough with is now kept in restraints while the bus is running, school officials said.

Meanwhile, a group of bus drivers has released a statement on Schroeder’s behalf: “We know Jim is a good driver. We support him and we are taking a stand because what happened to him could easily happen to any one of us as a driver or monitor at Durham.”

The group, Spokane Durham Workers Organizing Committee, has also called for a clearer policy and more training on how to handle children who are fighting.

The current policy reads: “The driver is in full charge of the bus and students. Ensuring safe transportation includes breaking up fights in a way that is safe for both perpetrator and victim, and keeping control of passengers on a bus. When there are recurring problems Durham provides an assistant to help the driver manage the children on the bus. If we as the district have concerns we have the option of requesting a driver or attendant be removed.”

The bus drivers are working with a Teamsters representative on forming a union.

“People at Durham are fearful of losing their job,” said Don Herwander, one of Schroeder’s former co-workers. “That’s one reason why we are trying to become a union shop.”

Krage, the Durham spokesman, said, “It is unfortunate that the Teamsters union and the driver are trying to diminish the importance of child safety by attempting to turn this situation into a media issue.”

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