A bus driver for Antioch Elementary District 34 says he has no clue why he has been suspended without pay for insubordination, while school officials contend misleading reports have wrongly combined two separate issues.
The common thread in what has become a public matter occurred Jan. 11 when driver Kevin Garfinkle was told by students on his bus that another student had a "grenade" in his backpack. The bus was parked in a queue that morning to unload pre-K and first graders at Hillcrest Elementary School.
"They said, 'So and so has a grenade in his backpack,'" Garfinkle said Wednesday. "I said, 'He's got what?'"
Garfinkle confiscated the item from a first grade student and gave it to a teacher in the parking lot. It turned out to be a replica that police examined and determined was harmless, according to the district.
But Garfinkle said he didn't hear more about it and was at a loss for what to tell parents who questioned him on what action had been taken against the student and how safety would be ensured.
Eight days later, Superintendent Jay Marino told parents the district "missed the mark" but the situation had been reviewed and a new procedure formulated.
The "grenade" finding was quickly determined to be a false alarm "so we didn't notify parents -- in hindsight, we should have," Marino wrote on the district website Wednesday in response to recent media coverage.
"We regret our initial lapse of communication to the community on this matter and have put better protocols in place moving forward," he added.
Garfinkle said his requests for information have not been answered and he is being blamed for talking to parents and referring questions to the district after the replica was found.
"The district administration did not take this situation seriously at all," according to a letter Garfinkle shared with the school board at its meeting Tuesday night.
"What if the grenade was a real one and he pulled the pin while still on the bus? How would the district answer that question?" Garfinkle asked in the letter.
In the Wednesday web post, Marino didn't name Garfinkle but said the bus driver acted appropriately by reporting the situation to school officials. However, subsequent actions "included multiple incidents that were concerning, disruptive and potential safety hazards," Marino added.
Those actions are being investigated, according to Marino. School officials declined to discuss details, citing a personnel matter, but acknowledged it was difficult for the public to understand without knowledge of the entire situation.
"No clue," Garfinkle said when asked about the alleged actions. "That's something the district has to explain."
Marino said the matter would be handled under district procedures involving support staff union employees based on the findings of the investigation. No schedule was disclosed.
Garfinkle said the situation has been "very stressful" and his chief concern is student safety.
"I just want to go back to work," he said.