Sipping water shouldn't be equated with sending texts or chatting on a cell phone. But that was the goofy logic of a school district rule, now abandoned, that would have required bus drivers to leave their vehicles in order to take a drink of water. The district wisely rescinded this overbearing decree Tuesday evening, four days after the employees' union filed a grievance on behalf of the drivers.
Here is the offending language in the district bus drivers handbook: "In order to safely consume a beverage or food, the bus must be locked down in a safe location and the operator must leave the operator's compartment.''
Here's a much more simple guide that will have the same result: No eating or drinking while the bus is in motion. That allows drivers to swig a beverage while the bus is stopped at a red light or parked outside a school.
But, apparently, nothing is simple between union and administration. The rule, in effect for the first four weeks of the school year, put risk management before employee safety and comfort — most buses are not air-conditioned — and attempted to reduce driver distractions by increasing the potential for dehydration. Worse, the meddlesome edict was indicative of district administrators unwilling or unable to recognize their employees' professionalism.
Coming on the heels of forced furloughs, new pass-through pensions costs, and a rule that makes teachers financially responsible for damage to district laptop computers, the bus-beverage rule smacked of the bureaucratic equivalent of piling on.
Certainly, drivers must be attentive to protect the safety of their student passengers and other motorists on their daily runs to and from schools. Data from 2009 showed 400 drivers transported 35,000 students each school day. Collectively, the drivers travel 8 million miles around Pasco over the course of the school year.
Consider the sentiment of superintendent Heather Fiorentino in an October 2009 letter acknowledging National Bus Safety Week. Drivers' "ability to maintain focus amid multiple distractions is proof of their high level of professionalism and commitment to the well-being of children and I would like to thank our school bus drivers for their tremendous efforts.''
She was right to rescind the ridiculous rule. But, if the sentiment of that letter was sincere, the mandate never should have been implemented in the first place. Dousing thirst doesn't diminish job performance.