Bus Monitors and Drivers Go Public With Concerns
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"I’m glad Karen had finally opened up Pandora’s Box for everybody. Really, we do take a lot of abuse,” said Theresa Greth-Statt.
"I’ve had things thrown at me when driving Special Ed buses. I’ve been punched in the ear. But I was never called in after the fact to say Nancy, how are you doing, by anyone in administration,” said Nancy Eichel, who is retired.
Current and former Gates-Chili school bus drivers sitting around the table worked for the district for 10 to 36 years, except for Dan Schrader. Last year was his one and only year as a school bus monitor and driver with the district.
"These kids didn’t respect size or age, and yeah I had actually kids actually that came up to my waist and tell me what they thought of me and didn’t care,” Schrader said.
Schrader says the kids aren't why he left. The former chairman of the district's bus safety committee says he was consistently brushed off and disregarded when he brought driver safety concerns to the union and to administrators.
Nancy Eichel and Judy Garcia say the same thing happened to them.
"I was singled out. I was harassed by the district itself, by the officials at Gates-Chili,” Garcia said. “I was harassed, followed, threatened, I was ostracized. I was told… the union president went around and told drivers not to speak to me anymore because I brought up some safety issues, and I said I was just trying to make things better, not to make them worse, and it’s not taken that way."
In a written statement, Gates Chili said:
"Gates Chili has a stringent process related to student bus referrals as well as staff concerns or complaints. All referrals submitted by bus drivers or monitors are thoroughly investigated with the support of video on all school buses. When necessary, we have secured separate external investigations to address unresolved referrals or staff complaints. Any issues confirmed through the external investigations are immediately addressed."
"But they can take little snips of something and make anything look bad, so they’re more concerned about protecting themselves than they are about protecting the drivers and kids," Garcia said.
In a phone interview, the Regional Staff Director of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) union said:
"The process is to take member complaints seriously and pursue them to the extent that policy and the law allows."
He said he hopes the horrific incident in Greece raises awareness from the public, the district, and parents.
“From the superintendent to president of the union, they’re all the same person; you can’t go to any of them," said Lucy Van Orden.
Van Orden believes she became a target and was suspended after she followed her attorney's advice and formally asked the district for help in controlling a particularly unruly bus.
"The driver that drove my bus while I was suspended said the same thing – the kids are really unruly, it’s an accident waiting to happen,” Van Orden said. “I’m going to lose my job. I’m just waitin’ for them to decide."
Theresa Greth-Statt, on the other hand, says she's had the backing of supervisors and principals in Gates, but says she had to be particularly strong willed and outspoken to get it.
"I’ve also told these certain principals, you want us to stand behind you, you need to stand behind us. It’s a two way street,” Greth-Statt said.
Regardless of their current situation, all of these local bus drivers hope the national spotlight on Karen Klein's story raises awareness, forces change and finally gives them a voice.
There needs to be some things put in place where the drivers can go to, people that you can complain to about safety issues that will do something about it, because we went through a lot of different chains of commands trying to get somebody to listen to us and nobody would," Garcia said.