Fired school bus driver helps organize movement to get rehired

Melanie Douglas worked for 12 years as a bus driver in the DeKalb County School District (DCSD). She said while the job wasn’t perfect, she enjoyed being “the first person the children meet in the morning, and the last person they see from school on their way home.”

Her job with the district ended the afternoon of April 19, when a police car pulled up to her home to deliver a letter saying she’d been fired.

According to the letter, Douglas was fired because the district “received reliable information” that she “personally promoted and encouraged” the sick-out held April 19, 20 and 23 that, according to district officials, resulted in 670 bus driver absences over the three days.

Douglas was one of seven bus drivers fired by the district as a result of the sick-out. In a press release DCSD officials said the fired employees were among a group found to actively support or encourage bus drivers not to report to work.

“Where’s the proof that I did this? To be honest, I didn’t pass out anything,” Douglas told The Champion. “I spoke at a meeting that [DCSD superintendent Stephen Green] asked us to come to and speak our minds, and I think I spoke my mind a little too well for him.”

According to DCSD school board member Stan Jester’s blog, in a meeting with Green held April 17, drivers outlined more than 50 concerns—including a desire for higher wages and a better retirement plan.

Douglas said the list is a result of complaints that go back several years, with no response from the district.

“I’ve been here 12 years, and every other year or so, we raise these same issues and nothing is ever done,” she said. “Nothing is ever solved or even put on the table.”

Douglas said standard operating procedure for drivers is to take their complaints to their immediate supervisors, who then are supposed to report them to one of the district’s five regional transportation managers. She said she isn’t sure a complaint ever reached a transportation manager.

“[The supervisors] say, ‘OK, we’ll check into it’ and nothing is ever done. That’s the end of the story,” she said.

The drivers who participated in the sick-out saw it as a “last-ditch effort” to have their voices heard, according to Douglas. The district interpreted the sick-out as a strike and used a Georgia law against public employee strikes as justification for the firings.

The fired drivers, along with some DeKalb County parents and community organizers, are attempting to organize a movement to get the drivers rehired. The Atlanta branch of the General Defense Committee, which advocates for collective bargaining rights, among other issues, helped to organize a press conference in support of the movement. About two dozen fired and still-employed drivers, parents and organizers gathered just outside the boundaries of DCSD property on Mountain Industrial Boulevard April 26 to advocate for the drivers’ jobs.

Douglas said there’s a variety of reasons she would like to have her job as a driver reinstated, despite the actions of the district, but one stands out.

“I really enjoy the children. They’re just like family to me,” she said. “When they have problems or they’re happy or they’re sad, they talk to me about everything so we can celebrate or I’ll be there to offer a shoulder to cry on.”

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