Woman lost job after speaking out about dangerous behavior on Syracuse school buses

Bus drivers Michelle White and Mark Parker speak with CNY Central's Jim Kenyon

A woman who drives a school bus in the Syracuse School District claims she was fired for speaking out to CNY Central about outrageous and dangerous behavior among students.

Michelle White filed complaints with the New York State Division of Human Rights against both the Syracuse School District and her employer, First Student, which is contracted to transport students with the district. Her complaints can be read here.

On November 15th, CNY Central's Jim Kenyon aired a report which featured Michelle White and former driver Mark Parker. They complained of student behavior which they say threatens the safety of both drivers and students alike.

White told Kenyon at the time, "The students won't remain in their seats. They do spit in your face, they call us every possible name in the book. They belittle us, call us old, fat, ugly. They try to make fun of our family. Let alone the physical treatment. They do punch us, hit us, shove us."

White also claimed that First Student and the district retaliate against drivers who report such abuse. First Student denied the allegation and said they encourage drivers "to report any behavior they deem unsafe to themselves or the students we transport."

Syracuse School District Transportation Director Pat Bailey previously told Kenyon that "there's no truth" to the allegation of retaliation for reporting student misbehavior.

On November 16th, the day after the story aired, Bailey sent a letter to First Student's Syracuse Manager, Ty Worrell. The letter read, "Driver Michelle White is to be removed from all Syracuse City School District bus routes effective immediately." The letter can be read in full here.

White received a letter of termination from David Kinley, Area General Manager of First Student, notifying her that termination was effective November 27. The letter read, in part: "On November 16, 2012 we received a notice from Syracuse City School District requiring you to be removed from their school runs. Currently we have no other work available through the Syracuse Locations. This letter is to confirm the termination of employment effective November 27, 2012."

White filed complaints with the New York State Division of Human Rights. "I have been unjustly wronged for speaking out," she wrote. "After a news exclusive broadcast regarding safety of students on school buses as well as drivers/monitors safety which also pertains to student safety, I was terminated."

Whiteâ??s complaint also claims that First Student tried to "call off the impending news cast. After the newscast aired, I was placed on administrative leave pending more disciplinary actions."

On Friday, November 30th, First Student issued this statement: "Former employee Michelle White was disqualified from service by the school district and no longer permitted to operate for First Student in the district. Unfortunately, there was no other work available in the area and she was offered a similar position within First Student at our Auburn location which she declined." Company spokesman Timothy Stokes points out that because White turned down the Auburn job offer and because she was offered unemployment benefits, White was not "fired."

White says she turned down the Auburn position because it paid $7.00 per hour less than her former position, plus she could not afford the extra cost of commuting to Auburn.

Late Friday afternoon, the Syracuse School District issued the following statement. "The Syracuse City School District contracts with First Student, Inc. for the transportation of our students. First Student Inc. is responsible for the hiring, discipline and termination of their employees. Per the contractual agreement between the school district and First Student, Inc. the school district reserves the right to approve or reject any of the contractor's driver personnel who will transporting our students. The school district bases these decisions on the best interest of our students. It is not our policy to evaluate the job performance of our employees or contractors in the media."

Read White's

human rights complaint

, White's

notice of termination

, and Pat Bailey's letter to Ty Worrell.