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Union North School Board Tables Action on Bus Driver who Refuses to Pick-up Student

September 22, 2011

09/23/11 The Union-North School Board held a special meeting on September 21 to determine if the contract of a bus driver should be terminated or not.

During opening statements, Superintendent Dr. Terry Barker asked the board to consider canceling the contract of Kellie Carrico for what he termed her refusal to transport a student on her bus.

Although the child was not named at the special meeting, testimony indicated that he is six- years-old and enrolled in kindergarten at LaVille Elementary. According to information read from the child’s physician’s submission, the student is allergic to any type of peanut product and the condition could be life-threatening.

Appearing with Carrico was her attorney, Vincent Campiti. Campiti practices inSouth Bend.

Carrico and Campiti contend that she does not and cannot obtain adequate liability insurance because it is not offered to cover her if a problem was to arise concerning the child and his particular condition.

Reportedly, Carrico did transport the child on her bus for approximately two weeks, but by September 7, began refusing to pick him up on her route. Barker said she refused admission on her bus by passing him up at his bus stop and then again refusing him admission on to the bus when a teacher took him out after school.

According to Carrico, she asked that the child be transported on a corporation owned bus or that she receive some type of letter stating that the corporation would take responsibility if a problem were to lead to a liability issue. Campiti said, “She (Carrico) simply wants you to accept the risks and responsibility.” He said, “Use your common sense and reasonableness.”

According to LaVille Elementary Assistant Principal Randy Roemer, a meeting with the child’s parents and others established a 504 plan for the student that means he does qualify for special services. During questioning of Roemer, he indicated that there are special precautions taken during regular lunch periods including having the child sit at a “peanut free” table away from some other children. He said, “It does warrant modifications of the environment.” Roemer also said the child’s teacher has had training in the use of the child’s medications. The child’s parents contend that he could, if necessary, self-administer medication from an Epinephrine injection pen that he carries in his book bag.

Board member Mike Berger said, “He is in constant supervision?” Dave Grenert, also a board member, asked a follow-up question saying, “If there are provisions at school, why not on the bus.” It was noted that on the Thursday following the meeting, that the elementary school is having a special “peanut butter sandwich day”. Roemer said the child could eat at another location.

The student was given a seat to himself on the bus that was located within the view of the rearview mirrors on the bus. Barker contends that no food or drinks are allowed the bus and that drivers are to uphold that policy; therefore, the student would not be subjected to peanut products. Roemer said, “We understand the bus is a controlled atmosphere.”

Later in the meeting, Carrico said that there is nothing in the handbook that says there is no food allowed. She said that Barker told her to announce to the kids on the bus that the student has a peanut allergy. She said she questioned whether is would be violating Hippa laws. Carrico has been driving bus for a total of 15 years, but not all of the 15 were for Union-North.

During the meeting, there were several heated exchanges between Campiti and Attorney Mark Scudder, representing Union-North. Scudder said that by state statue, drivers can buy extra insurance. Campiti responded saying that it is not available at any cost. School corporations do hold extended liability insurance that is possible because of their corporation status.

Scudder spoke up several times during the meeting to address Campiti. At one point, Scudder said, “We don’t need to be rude to people.” “You need to listen to the chair.”

Board President Mark Dickson also spoke up on occasion to keep the meeting on topic and clarify that the meeting was to gather information for the board.

Campiti said, “This particular school is sending a child where he is not protected.”

Campiti finally asked Barker how the bus situation would be handled if Carrico’s contract was canceled. Barker said, “We would substitute with a corporation bus.” Campiti said, “That’s your solution? That’s what she (Carrico) has asked for.” He said, “These are unique circumstances.”

Scudder said, “As I look at the contract, it says she has to transport all kids. She violated that.”

After over three hours,  the board voted to recess until October 13 a t6:00 p.m. By that date, Barker will have left the employment of Union-North and assumed his new duties as Superintendent of School City of Mishawaka.

Board Members indicated that they wanted more time to review what was presented at the meeting. Grenert said, “I think we’ve heard a lot of new things tonight-things new to me anyhow.” He added, “It seems to me that we failed as a board to provide safeguards. I’ve got a lot of thinking to do about the situation.” “Canceling a contract is a serious business.” Grenert said,

 Carol Anders Correspondent