Bus Driver Takes Weapon From Kid and Loses Job

How to best monitor safety on a school bus? Photo: Getty ImagesOK, time for a pop quiz: As a schoolteacher or an administrator, you should deal with safety issues by (a) always following proper protocol to the letter, or (b) using common sense based on the particular situation at hand. The answer, according to an Ohio school district that has severed ties with a bus driver over how he handled a student with a knife, appears to be (a) — though a leading national school safety expert disagrees.

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The trouble went down last week, when new substitute school-bus driver Dennis Kaliszewski, 60, was driving kids home from Pleasant Valley Elementary School in Parma. Though Yahoo Shine could not reach him for comment, the driver told Cleveland.com that he was heading to his first stop when “it seemed as though the entire bus of students started to yell that a young boy had a knife in his possession.” He says he then pulled over and told the boy, who was probably between 8 and 10 years old, that the bus wouldn’t move until he handed over his knife. After a few promptings by Kaliszewski, the boy eventually brought his small pocketknife up to the driver, who then continued his route.

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“I feel I defused the situation and eliminated any danger,” notes Kaliszewski, who says he believed the boy was showing off rather than threatening anyone. Later on during the route, when a parent asked Kaliszewski why the bus was behind schedule, he explained what had happened; he adds that when he returned the bus to the garage, he looked for his supervisor to report the situation, but found she had left for the day, and he followed suit. He then wrote a formal letter to his supervisor, documenting what had taken place.

The next morning, Kaliszewski was called in to the school and told he would not be driving for the district anymore, Cleveland.com reports. As an on-call sub, not an employee, he was not technically fired, Parma City School District spokesperson Erin Gadd tells Yahoo Shine. Rather, she says, he “simply will not be asked to work again.”

A letter sent home to parents, according to Cleveland.com, explains that Kaliszewski failed to follow district protocol. Gadd won’t explain what the protocol entails, and says she can’t comment on the situation further due to district policy. But Kaliszewski tells the website that during his three months of training, he was told, in the case of a student with a weapon, to stop the bus, tell kids there was a mechanical problem, and call the police.

But the driver notes that he used “common sense” with his judgment, and says he plans to contact a lawyer about how he’s been treated.

He makes good points, according to Ken Trump, president of the private National School Safety and Security Services firm, located in Cleveland. “If the driver’s comments are accurate — and I know there are two sides of every story — then I think he has a legitimate grievance,” Trump tells Yahoo Shine. “I understand the importance of having protocol and being concerned about the safety of everyone. That said, just as with police officers on the street and a school principal who has rules, when it comes to safety situations, there needs to always be room for discretion because every scenario doesn’t fit one script.”

Trump adds that it seems Kaliszewski used common sense, stayed calm and got the situation under control quickly, and that the student was compliant. “Our bus drivers have one of the most challenging and difficult jobs in the schools,” he notes. “Would they treat a principal or assistant principal who had not followed a script to the T in the same fashion? I would lay down some money he wouldn’t be terminated on the spot.”

Further, Trump says, “I’m wondering if perhaps the district’s greatest angst rests with the fact that he mentioned it to a parent. Some districts are very image-conscious.”

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