Lake Superior School District bus drivers upset over call to release students during winter stormIn one of the only school districts in the region that didn’t close for last Wednesday’s winter storm, Lake Superior bus drivers were faced at mid-day with news that they would be driving children home at the height of a snowfall that dumped almost 10 inches on the North Shore.
In one of the only school districts in the region that didn’t close for last Wednesday’s winter storm, Lake Superior bus drivers were faced at mid-day with news that they would be driving children home at the height of a snowfall that dumped almost 10 inches on the North Shore.
A group of Two Harbors bus drivers submitted a signed statement to the News-Chronicle this week expressing their unhappiness about the decision to close Minnehaha Elementary School at 1 p.m. and Two Harbors High School at 1:30 p.m. Silver Bay schools closed at 1 p.m.
“We the undersigned school bus drivers of this school district upon arriving at the bus garage from many different directions personally believed that the decision to transport the students home in the heart of the storm last Wednesday, February 29, would unnecessarily put our students at risk,” the statement read in part.
Eleven bus drivers signed the statement. They said they had asked the district to wait until the whiteout conditions had subsided, and said they were told to “drive the bus or resign.”
School Superintendent Phil Minkkinen did not return calls for comment.
When contacted by the News-Chronicle, Two Harbors bus driver and union steward Paul Beckey was reluctant to talk for fear of retaliation. But he said that in in more than 30 years, none of the drivers remembered having to ask not to drive during extreme weather conditions.
“In fact, we were usually told by several administrators that we are in the trenches, so we make the call,” he said.
“We were concerned about the weather, so we called the district office and did everything but get on our knees and beg and said it was unsafe to transport all the kids home in whiteout conditions,” he said.
Beckey said the Minnesota Department of Transportation had advised no travel.
“It was with grave concern that we got to the point of saying, ‘Let’s stay in the garage.’ We were told in essence that our job would suffer because of it.
“Unfortunately, too many of us need the job. We had one driver who had the courage to say the safety of our children is more important. The driver has been on administrative leave,” said Beckey. “We are waiting to hear back from our union agent, but we would think the driver is entitled to a hearing. We were told that the driver is on an indefinite leave of absence.
“When we brought up the safety issue, we were told, ‘Don’t worry; no one will hold you responsible. It’s the school’s call.’ What do we care about being held responsible? We’re the ones who have to live with this for the rest of our lives if an accident happens,” he said.
The Two Harbors Police Department, the Silver Bay Police Department, and the Lake County Sheriff’s Department said no accidents involving school buses were reported last week.
“Several parents have thanked the bus drivers for their work last week,” Beckey said.