Woodland bus driver fired

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

Updated: October 23, 2012, 7:10 PM

 
photoWoodland School District bus driver Jolleen Washburn.

(/The Columbian)

Buy this photo

A dispute over the safety of a school bus stop in Woodland has led to the firing of an eight-year bus-driving veteran.

The Woodland School Board fired the driver, Jolleen Washburn, Monday after a weeklong dispute between the school district and Washburn over the safety of a stop on rural Lewis River Road.

Washburn had refused to stop at the district’s chosen location — near a private driveway, but also close to the intersection of Lewis River Road and Old Lewis River Road — because she thought the area was unsafe. Instead, she regularly stopped 30 to 60 feet away from the intersection to pick up a 6-year-old kindergartner.

In a letter Monday, district Superintendent Michael Green laid out how Washburn’s actions were part of a pattern of insubordination.

She had received a verbal reprimand Oct. 4, a written reprimand Oct. 11 and was later suspended on Oct. 16. She continued to stop away from the school district’s preferred loading area after returning to work on Oct. 19.

After meeting with Washburn on Monday, Green forwarded a recommendation to the school board to fire her.

Washburn doesn’t dispute that she failed to follow the school district’s orders. She said the school district’s stop was unsafe because it was too close to the intersection.

“I admit, absolutely, I was insubordinate,” Washburn said. “But the directive I received directly contradicted (the law) and the district’s policies.”

The school district’s policy requires drivers to stop one to two bus lengths from an intersection.

Following the district’s orders would be the same as if her superiors asked her to “drive recklessly, or hit a child,” she added.

Washburn said she’s now looking into hiring a labor attorney and possibly pursuing legal action against the school district. With her firing, Washburn expects her union to investigate the termination.

Last week, Green said the school district believed the bus stop was safe. It’s been used as a drop-off and loading site off and on without incident for 30 years. This was Washburn’s first year making a stop at the intersection.

The 6-year-old boy’s grandmother, Sharon Norton, agreed with the school district’s assessment and said Washburn had put her grandson in harm’s way by making him stand too close to the roadway, or in a ditch by the side of the road.

“I did not want her to lose her job,” Norton said. “But on the other hand, I wanted my grandson to be safe.”

Today, Norton will be back out in front of the driveway, near the intersection, with her grandson in tow as the school bus approaches.

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