Woodland school bus driver faces firing over standoff with district

She refuses to stop at busy intersection of roads to pick up boy

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Did You Know?

Today is the first day of National Bus Safety Week.

Each year, about 17,000 children nationwide are treated for injuries resulting from school bus accidents, according to a study by the journal Pediatrics. Among the most common bus driver complaint is that other motorists frequently violate the school bus stop law.

— Tyler Graf

photoWoodland School District bus driver Jolleen Washburn.

(/The Columbian)

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An eight-year bus driver in Woodland is facing termination for disobeying school district orders to pick up a kindergartner in front of his home at the intersection of Lewis River Road and Old Lewis River Road.

Driver Jolleen Washburn said stopping at the intersection is unsafe. Instead, she has been picking the boy up about 60 feet south of the intersection, despite objections by Woodland School District officials and the student's grandmother.

The school district placed Washburn on administrative leave Friday after previously suspending her for two days last week for the same infraction.

The boy's grandmother, Sharon Norton, who often sends him off to school, said she believes the stop in front of her home is safer than the driver's preferred alternative because her grandson can stand away from traffic on the home's private driveway.

"Where she wants my grandson to wait for the bus is unsafe," Norton said. "He'd have to wait in the ditch."

Washburn argued that Lewis River Road is a dangerous road for bus stops. The road has a speed limit of 55 mph. Several vehicles have already blown past Washburn's parked bus even when the bus's stop-signal arm is extended, she said. She said she fears another vehicle could T-bone the bus if she waited at the intersection.

"I plan to stop where I plan on stopping," said Washburn, who prides herself on her clean driving record. "I'm not going to break the law simply for the job."

Michael Green, the school district's superintendent, said it's not the district's policy to force drivers to stop at unsafe intersections. He said the stop in front of the boy's home has been used as a bus stop for 30 years and meets state codes that regulate where buses pick up and drop off students.

Both the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Washington State Patrol have told the district the stop doesn't pose any danger, Green said.

Talks between Washburn and the school district to resolve the dispute have been fruitless, Washburn said.

Washburn said she doesn't expect her union to file a grievance on her behalf because her actions are considered insubordination.

She said she may hire a labor attorney in the event she's fired. The school district would not comment on Washburn's current or future employment status.

Washburn is also engaged in a public relations campaign against the school district. She's appeared twice in the last two weeks on conservative talk radio personality Victoria Taft's program on KPAM-AM 860.

Norton, the student's grandmother, said she doesn't want Washburn to lose her job. But if the bus driver is terminated, Norton added, it would be because she is "stubborn."

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities;tyler.graf@columbian.com