Bus driver says he was fired for questioning the school’s decision to put buses and kids on icy roads

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN – A contracted school bus driver for Hamilton County, who worked a route for Signal Mountain, believes a recent Facebook comment he made resulted in him being fired

However, the company that contracted him to drive the school bus says there’s more to the terminated relationship than just a Facebook comment. 

Jonathan McKenney has been working as a school bus driver for a few years, primarily working within the Signal Mountain area in his efforts. 

When the school district had announced to go about their normal schedule for school on the morning of February 18th via a Facebook post, McKenney had raised some concerns due to the ice that was on the roads. 

In response to the Facebook post by Hamilton County, McKenney wrote: 

“If the W and Roberts Mill are closed by the sheriff’s department, that should be a big clue. I just don’t get it.”

According to McKenney, prior to him going about his normal route that morning, he reportedly received a call from the district’s transportation and safety compliance manager where he alleges he was, “chewed out.”

However, after the alleged phone call, McKenney proceeded on to his route. 

It wasn’t until after McKenney had finished his route that morning that he reportedly received another phone call – this time from the contractor who owns the bus he drove, which McKenney said the contractor fired him. 

McKenney says that he was essentially fired for just voicing his concerns while trying to keep the safety of children in mind due to the hazardous road conditions. 

But bus contractor Jamie Lee, the person behind McKenney being terminated, says that there’s more to this than just a Facebook comment

“Jon McKenney has been a driver for me the past year and I have had numerous issues with his willingness to cooperate on routes. These issues range from being argumentative about new stops to insubordination.”

“There were a series of events that led to the latest issue. On [February 17th], I had to go to the bus route to ensure it was covered because he was not answering his phone.”

“[On February 18th] he questioned my attendance at a meeting requested by transportation. In that conversation he asked what I thought about his Facebook post and I stated that I did not like it.”

“Jon then stated, ‘Then you need to fire me.’ After I replied that I would take care of the route from here, Jon then hung up on me and we have not communicated since.”

When McKenney was later asked whether there was any truth to what Lee mentioned in his statement on the matter, McKenney did admit that he may have “questioned things” from time to time: 

“I may have questioned things, but I always did what I was supposed to do.”

Local parents happen to be a fan of McKenney, and one concerned parent chimed in on a Hamilton County School Board meeting that occurred on the evening of February 18th to voice their disdain with McKenney being let go

Keith Bohman addressed the board, noting that he is willing to “stand up” for McKenney: 

“I stand up for him. He is a pillar in our community. He’s well known and it goes well beyond him driving a school bus.”

“When he commented on social media, he had the kids’ best interest at heart. He always have the kids’ best interest at heart.”

The only problem in this matter is that McKenney’s dismissal by the contractor has really nothing to do with Hamilton County Schools – and the school board members questioned their ability to be able to do anything about this matter. 

School board member Tiffanie Robinson commented on that note, saying the following during the meeting: 

“It’s phenomenal he’s a part of your community. We contractually are not even in a position to dive into this or investigate other than what we know or what we are legally bound to as far as our relationship with contract drivers.”

Dr. Justin Robertson, the Chief Operations Officer for Hamilton County Schools, clarified the debacle by stating: 

“The idea of someone being fired is not correct. The contractor can choose not to use sub-driver A, that doesn’t mean other contractors within the county can’t choose that driver.”

Essentially, the entire scenario that played out is one that only McKenney and Lee can rectify – if they so choose – or McKenney can appeal to other contractors about possible bus routes they can offer. 

When word got back to McKenney about local parents speaking positively on his behalf during the recent school board meeting, he was reportedly flattered by the kind words from parents but isn’t sure whether he’d entertain another bus route if ever offered. 

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Meanwhile in Los Angeles, California, the L.A. School Board recently voted to oust school resource officers so that they can be replaced with folks skilled in conflict resolution. 

Here’s that previous report from earlier in February. 

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LOS ANGELES, CA- On Tuesday, February 16th, the Los Angeles school board voted unanimously to replace school police officers on campuses with staff trained in de-escalation strategies and conflict resolution techniques. 

The school board also unanimously voted and approved a $36.5 million Black Student Achievement Plan. According to reports, the board voted to cut 133 school police positions, which include 70 sworn employees, 62 non-sworn employees, and one support staff member.

In place of the officers, school climate coaches will be stationed at all secondary schools. Police officers will remain on call to respond to emergencies and incidents on campuses and have a current goal of a three-to-five minute response time. 

Reportedly, the school climate coach role will be to assist administrators and staff to support a safe and positive school culture and climate for all students and staff. The school climate coaches will be trained to do the following:

Implement positive school culture and climate;

Use social-emotional learning strategies to strengthen student engagement;

Use de-escalation strategies and support conflict resolution;

Build positive relationship and elevate student voices;

Eliminate racial disproportionately in school discipline practices; and

Understand and address implicit bias.

Individual schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District will not be able to “opt” to have officers stationed on their respective campuses. The ability to opt in was in the initial proposal, but was taken out through an amendment by board member Kelly Gonez. She said:

“Our jobs are to serve students and if you’re causing harm to a small group of students that is enough to address the action that is causing harm, even unintentionally causing harm.”

The approved $36.5 million Black Student Achievement Plan will allocate its funds as stated below:

$4.4 million for curriculum and instruction, including expanding diverse representation, inclusion of black authors and social justice connections;

$2.4 million for teacher professional development;

$2 million for school curriculum grants for schools to supplement their curriculum to make it more inclusive to black students;

$2 million for community partnership to work with organizations that have demonstrated success with black students;

$30.1 millions for school climate and wellness to reduce over-identification of black students in suspensions, discipline, and other measures through targeted intervention;

$7.9 million for psychiatric social workers;

$7.6 million for counselors;

$2.9 million for school climate coaches;

$6.5 million for restorative justice advisors; and

$5.2 million for flexible climate grants.

53 schools have been identified as “targeted schools” for the plan, including Crenshaw, Dorsey, Fairfax, Gardena, Hamilton, Narbonne, Venice, and Westchester high schools.

These schools have been identified as “targeted schools” because of their black student enrollment as well as several other factors including absence and suspension rates. 

Joseph Williams, of Students Deserve Justice and who was called into the board’s meeting, said that while the school board did not vote on their “Reimagining Student Safety” proposal, the Black Student Achievement Plan was closer to their goals than the district’s December 2020 version. He said:

“There are so many things that we’re advocating for as part of this plan and we’re so happy to see that the superintendent has amended his proposal from what he proposed in December to actually center what students and community members have been asking for and the resources in a targeted way that students and community members have been asking for.”

School board members also voted to prohibit the Los Angeles School Police Department from using oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray, which is also know as pepper spray, on students. According to previous guidelines, the school officers were allowed to use the OC on students for “self-defense or defending others from imminent threat or physical force of violence.”

Additionally, the approved proposal includes the development of oversight and accountability committees, including:

the Black Student Achievement Steering Committee, which will develop and monitor strategies to improve achievement;

the Black Student Achievement Staff Working Group, which will be made up of LAUSD staff and will oversee and evaluate initiatives; and

the Oversight and Accountability Team, which will be responsible for day-to-day monitoring.

Board member Kelly Gonez said during the recent meeting:

“Obviously this is a big undertaking and required a lot of coordination, but I know we know and all believe that our black students are certainly worth this effort.”

Board member George McKenna, who voiced opposition for the proposal, but voted yes said:

“If in fact, school police are unnecessary, who are you going to call when stuff his the fa and how do you measure that which was prevented and never occurred because the presence of a police officer was a prevention.”

He added:

“The parents expect us to have safe schools and if you think the police are the problem, I think you got a problem yourself.”

Prior to the vote, a survey was presented to board members which collected responses from more than 35,000 LAUSD high school students, 6,600 parents, and 2,300 certified and classified staff members on high school campuses. 

According to the survey results, 51% of LAUSD students feel that having school police on campus makes the school safe, but only 35% of black students said they felt it made the school safe. Additionally, a quarter of black females said they do not feel safe with school police on campus.

The survey also found a significant portion of parents and staff that opposed or were neutral regarding a potential, significant reduction of the school police department budget by 90% over the next three years. only 14% of parents and 23% of staff were in support. 

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