Parents question hiring practice for bus drivers for special edu

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Change is never easy, and for students with special needs, even small changes in their world can have major impacts.

A handful of parents of special education children want to know why the Jefferson Local School District does not have more say in the way a driver is selected to transport special needs students following the retirement of Donna Chaffin, who spent 26 years as a special education bus driver.

 Following her retirement, Chaffin was temporarily replaced by Pam Hayes, who is certified in CPR and emergency medical training, while the district and the classified employee union discussed the employment of a driver with more seniority, but less emergency training, who bid on and won the special education bus route according to a union contract.

Superintendent William Mullett said the district attempted to go back to the union and ask them to hold the change in abeyance.

“When they met, they chose not to do it (abeyance),” remarked Mullett. “The board and I do not have the authority to not implement a contract item.

“We started the year with a driver (Hayes) and now have to switch over (because of the contract), but the new driver is out on leave right now, so the previous driver is still covering the route. She (Hayes) has less seniority and that’s pretty much how we have to follow the contract. The provision has never come up before and hasn’t been a problem.”

While she understood the reason why the board could not reverse the action, Vickie Kaho, the mother of a child identified in the autistic spectrum, felt the needs of children affected by the union’s action outweighed the seniority of a driver.

“Why are we switching to a bus driver with seniority and away from one more qualified,” asked Kaho. “Is this lady going to know what to do if my daughter is stung by a wasp? My daughter will not be able to say to look for an allergic reaction. Pam is trained and would know what to do.

“I feel they (union) are missing the point and are not as sensitive to special needs children in realizing changes are difficult and our children might not have the ability to express their needs in difficult situations. People who do not know or work with a special needs child can’t realize how difficult it is for a special needs child to accept change.”

Mullett said suggestions made by parents attending a Dec. 10 board meeting, regarding additional training/requirements for district drivers of special needs children, would be taken under consideration, given the sometimes fragile nature of the children being transported.

“Pam (Hayes) did a good job,” Mullett said, “but it’s not a matter of being socially correct. It’s a matter of following the contract. We tried not to have the change, but the union decided otherwise.”

Kaho and fellow parents said they plan to contact the union representative and district treasurer to explore what options they may have regarding the transportation of their children. The parents also want to see documentation on the qualifications of the new driver.

“It’s not only a safety issue, it’s also an emotional issue,” said Kaho.

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