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Article updated: 4/9/2013 1:59 PM

Union criticizes District 15's handling of driver firing

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The Palatine Township Elementary District 15 Transportation Union issued a statement Tuesday criticizing the school district's handling of a school bus accident involving a probationary driver Monday, which the driver didn't report to authorities.

"The probationary driver's failure to report the accident is without excuse," union President Carin Ulrich said in the emailed statement.

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As has been the case on other issues recently as the district considers outsourcing its bus service, the union and district disagreed over facts and nuances relating to the probationary driver.

Ulrich said the driver was trained by and hired from an outside bus company. And Ulrich said though the probationary driver had worked in the district less than three weeks, this was not his first accident. The driver had hit a tree branch with a school bus, which resulted in broken and damaged bus windows.

"The union was never notified by the district of any events or accidents involving this probationary driver," Ulrich said in the statement. "We are utterly appalled by the district's handling of this event. The union unapologetically believes the probationary driver should have been terminated much earlier."

District 15 Superintendent Scott Thompson said Monday's accident occurred when the school bus was stopped at a stop sign in Palatine, near the border of Rolling Meadows. The driver pulled out partially into traffic and realized there was a car approaching fast into the intersection, he said.

"He backed up. In the meantime a car had pulled up behind him and he backed into a car," Thompson said.

The bus driver did not stop but drove on to Plum Grove Junior High in Rolling Meadows to drop off students. The driver whose car had been hit called police and followed the bus to the school.

"We watched the video of the incident," Thompson said. "The driver may not even have known that he had backed into a car."

District officials and police investigated the damage and checked students for injuries. When three students complained of headaches, they were seen by doctors and returned to school the same day, Thompson said.

The driver was let go because he didn't follow district protocols requiring bus drivers to stay at the scene of an accident, and call a nurse or paramedics, if necessary, Thompson added.

"It's a law in the state of Illinois -- any accident with students on a bus requires police intervention to come and do the investigation," Thompson said.

He said that union representatives were part of the driver's disciplinary conference and subsequent termination conferences.

He said the driver did nothing wrong in the earlier accident when the bus struck a low-hanging tree branch extending over the roadway, breaking a window.

And he refuted the union's assertion that the driver had been trained by an outside company.

"The driver was trained by us," Thompson said. "He came to us with experience from another company, but we did our own training when he came. We prefer drivers that come to us have experience. Many of our drivers that drive for us have come from similar situations, either private companies or public transportation systems. We know that accidents occur in both private and public systems. It's unfortunate."

District 15's transportation department is one of the area's largest, busing 10,500 private and parochial school students daily. It consists of 156 bus drivers responsible for more than 600 individual routes, and its buses drove more than 1.6 million miles combined in the past year, according to officials.

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