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posted: 3/15/2010 12:01 AM

Student safety must be first priority

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Some things are matters of common sense.

If there were a bomb threat to a crowded building, you would get the people out. You wouldn't wait to find out whether the bomb was real. You would make sure the people were safe first and determine the authenticity of the threat second.

Common sense.

We bring this up because it seems an appropriate analogy to a situation in Mount Prospect Elementary District 57 last week when school officials had reason to worry that a school bus driver was under the influence of alcohol.

A co-worker reported that the driver, Betty Burden, smelled of alcohol, and we don't fault the intentions of the school officials.

In fact, Transportation Coordinator Vince Ramirez immediately tracked down the bus, which was in the process of dropping about 50 children off from school.

But when Ramirez couldn't smell alcohol on Burden, he allowed her to continue her route.

Let's be clear. Ramirez wasn't cavalier. He followed the bus as it continued on and called police to make a trained assessment. When police responded, they said, Burden failed a field sobriety test and she later was determined to have an extremely dangerous blood-alcohol content of .226.

Again, Ramirez wasn't cavalier. But he made a mistake. Once she was suspected of being under the influence, Burden should have been relieved from driving until the issue was resolved.

It's only a matter of common sense. There was too much precious cargo at risk.

There's no doubt that school Board President Joe Leane is concerned about the well-being of the children in the school district.

But he overly complicates the issue when he says this: "Unfortunately, in a situation like this, it's difficult to say, but you can't make decisions based on allegation or concern. That has to be investigated and there has to be reasonable basis to make a decision and unfortunately, that takes time."

Actually, in a case like this, you can make decisions on the basis of an allegation or concern. And you should.

Common sense.

It's no different from the example of a bomb threat. When the safety of the schoolchildren is involved, you don't worry about hurt feelings. You do what must be done to protect the children.

Stopping the driver while the matter is investigated would not imply guilt. It should merely be standard operating procedure.

The school board is holding a special meeting tonight to review the situation. We trust it will come to the same conclusion.

Beyond that, if the law does not directly require such a procedure, the law should be changed.

It's only a matter of common sense. And public safety.