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Ruth: School bus drivers deserve respect

There are certain jobs where having a disgruntled employee on the payroll is more problematic than others. Would you really want a brain surgeon in a foul mood? A peeved electrician charged with rewiring your house? Not good.

Or how about an annoyed, frustrated, distracted school bus driver responsible for making sure your little dickens gets to class and back home safely? Rut-ro.

But that appears to be the case as growing numbers of Hillsborough County School District bus drivers are coming forward with tales of woe and rage of being ignored and disrespected on the job.

We all know intuitively that driving a school bus has to be one of the most underappreciated and overly stressful cogs in our educational system.

And while educators and public officials never miss an opportunity to indulge in the obligatory lip service about our precious children and the incredibly important role great teachers can have on a kiddo's development, we barely give any thought to the process of transporting students to campus — unless something bad happens.

In many respects the men and women who drive school buses are faceless drones in the educational process, given less thought than the galley slaves in Ben-Hur's ramming speed scene.

At least Charlton Heston didn't have to deal with hordes of chattering, fighting, rambunctious children.

In recent weeks, more and more school bus drivers have been voicing complaints about their work environment before a sort of ad hoc committee led by School Board members April Griffin, Susan Valdes and Cindy Stuart.

If you are a parent of a student who rides a school bus, you would be well within your rights to be plenty puckered.

Drivers have noted that they receive no training to deal with a medical emergency, particularly with special-needs children. Drivers have had to deal with locked restrooms, radios that don't work, the inability to have ready access to supervisors, an often-malfunctioning routing system and a less-than-effective emergency response protocol.

In short, while everyone loves to talk about creating first-rate school districts, we schlep students around in a Third World bus system. Does this make any rational sense?

Throughout the halls of Tallahassee and the corridors of the education community, great debates rage over Common Core, testing rubrics, teacher compensation, vouchers, charter schools and a host of other classroom-related issues. All fair enough.

Meanwhile, certainly one of the most co-equal questions of student transportation gets thrown under the bus.

If we are to — quite rightly — place great value on teachers in the classroom, shouldn't we also do more to recognize the value of those who directly shoulder the responsibility of student safety?

Roughly 80 drivers have appeared at the town hall meetings organized by Griffin, Valdes and Stuart to vent their concerns. This is obviously not some small, vociferous cabal of rabble-rousers stirring up trouble.

School superintendant MaryEllen Elia has a problem. And if you're a parent of a bused child, you have a problem.

The drivers should be listened to.

They should be heeded.

They most certainly should be more respected.

Ruth: School bus drivers deserve respect 04/03/14 [Last modified: Thursday, April 3, 2014 5:26pm]

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