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Driver fired following probe of alleged discrimination on school bus

By ellin walsh | REPORTER Published: October 9, 2016 12:00 AM
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Tallmadge -- A bus driver accused of segregating youngsters en route to Tallmadge high and middle schools last month has been fired, according to a spokesperson for the company which hired her.

"With the conclusion of the investigation, I can share with you that the driver involved in the incident has been terminated," said Kate Walden, director of corporate communications for National Express, the parent company of Petermann Bus, headquartered in Warrenville, Ill.

"This decision was made by Petermann Bus management, based on our company policy," Walden said, adding, "We have taken this matter very seriously and fully cooperated with our partners at the district during the investigation. We have concluded that this was the appropriate course of action."

Walden didn't respond to requests for additional information surrounding the bus driver's dismissal, including her name, tenure, date of firing and whether there had been other complaints or disciplinary issues with her in the past.

"We do not disclose personnel matters outside of the company," Walden reported.

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"We support the decision of Petermann to terminate the driver in question," Tallmadge City Schools Superintendent Jeff Ferguson wrote in an Oct. 6 email to the Tallmadge Express. "As our partners, they share our view that the transportation must be provided in a way that provides a safe and welcoming environment to all of our students. There can be no exceptions."

Allegations were made by a parent Sept. 27 that the bus driver who takes her children to school segregated the students on the bus. According to Randi Montagu, her 16-year-old son, Tylar, and 11-year-old son, Dakota, ride the same bus. On Sept. 27, she says her older son texted her about 8:45 a.m., saying, "Mom, I don't want to ride the bus anymore." When she asked what prompted that remark, Randi Montagu says Tylar said the bus driver had segregated the students by skin color that morning.

"I'm glad that she's gone, but I'm still mad," Randi Montagu told the Tallmadge Express by telephone Oct. 6. "I still don't feel that I've gotten any answers, and I feel that she owes all these children an apology."

According to Tylar, when he boarded the bus Sept. 27, he noticed that all the Arabic, Hispanic and African American children were sitting in the front while all the white students were seated in the back. The students usually have assigned seats, according to Randi Montagu.

While the bus driver said nothing to her biracial sons, Randi says Tylar claims the woman stopped his Puerto Rican neighbor as he was heading toward the back of the bus.

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"No, your seat's up here. You need to get up here,'" Randi Montagu says Tylar heard the bus driver say.

Tylar took a seat at the back of the bus, telling his mom that decision drew repeated "dirty looks" from the bus driver throughout the ride.

Dakota sat in front.

"I was confused, Mom," Randi Montagu quotes the 11-year-old as saying. "I didn't know what was going on so I just sat with the color of my skin, I just sat with the black kids."

Upon learning of the allegation, Steve Wood, chief operating officer for the Tallmadge City School District, reported the bus driver was "immediately" placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation. According to Wood, Tallmadge City Schools contracts its busing through Petermann Bus, and Petermann is in charge of hiring its drivers.

There were between 20 and 25 youngsters on the bus at the time of the alleged incident, according to Wood.

Montagu said she wants assurances that the woman in question won't be allowed to drive a school bus for any district in the future.

She added she is pursuing counseling for Dakota, whom she described as "sad and still confused" since the bus incident.

"He's never had to experience discrimination before," Randi Montagu said. "He's thinking, 'I'm half-white, half black. Where do I sit? Where do I fit in?' He shouldn't have to make that choice. He's a human being. He should be able to sit where he wants to sit, not make a choice based upon his skin color."

Email: ewalsh@recordpub.com.

Phone: 330-541-9419

Twitter: @ EllinWalsh_RPC

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