TAMPA — A bus driver who spoke out about problems in the Hillsborough County school system now faces being fired for letting her son drive her bus.
Theresa Robinson, 52, will be terminated today subject to a vote by the School Board.
A district investigation showed that on April 27, a Sunday, Robinson's son was recorded on video driving the school bus assigned to her. Robinson said he took the bus to be washed and detailed. That's against district rules and the union contract, the district said.
The incident happened after Robinson spoke out at a School Board meeting and town hall meetings organized by board members about problems in the transportation department.
At the Feb. 25 board meeting, she described a driver tilting a bus to load wheelchairs at a school. Drivers were given exceptional student education routes without needed training, she said. And she said favoritism led to an uneven distribution of work.
"I was told that if I came to this board meeting and spoke about that, there would be some kind of retaliation," she told the board.
District spokesman Stephen Hegarty said retaliation had nothing to do with the termination. "It has to do with her son driving the bus," he said.
The discovery of Robinson's son, who is not named in the reports, happened after a parent complained Robinson "bullied or harassed" a student.
A supervisor went with Robinson to view the on-board video. When they were fast-forwarding to try to find the episode, they came across video of a young man driving the bus.
The supervisor asked if Robinson knew him. She said he was her son — not a school employee — and was "taking the bus to clean it for her."
The supervisor wrote that when she watched the video, she did not see anybody washing the bus.
Robinson has worked for the district since 2004 and earns $18,454, records show. She did not respond to requests from a reporter for comment.
Her daughter, Ja'da Robinson, said her mother was in the bus when her stepbrother drove it from a lot to the family apartment. Once there, they sprayed down the hood and swept dirt off the seats, she said.
"It wasn't some joyride," said Ja'da Robinson, adding that her stepbrother, whom she would not name, is a licensed county bus driver. "I could understand a suspension, or a slap on the wrist. But not them firing her. That's just crazy," she said.
Board member Cindy Stuart said without knowing Robinson's history, it's hard to say if she should be fired or given a warning. But the allegation is serious enough to warrant action.
"I don't care what she said at a board meeting," Stuart said. "When you break the rules, that's not retaliation. The what-ifs that went through my mind were huge."
Times staff writer Zack Peterson contributed to this report.