B U F F A L O   N E W S

'Fired' bus driver quit, Island school district says
News Northtowns Bureau
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Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News
Ex-school bus driver Julianne Thompson defends providing pupils information.


A Grand Island school bus driver who said she was fired last month for discussing stem cell research with elementary school pupils actually quit, the district's superintendent said Friday.

But the driver, Julianne Thompson, still maintains she was fired. Superintendent Thomas Ramming initially declined to discuss the case because it was a personnel matter. But he said after the story received local and national publicity, he decided to speak out.

"This particular individual was not fired," he said of Thompson, a bus driver for 21/2 years.

He said after Thompson was warned by Jack Burns, the district's supervisor for transportation, that her Nov. 1 conversation with pupils on stem cell research was inappropriate and against district policy, she decided to step down.

Ramming said Burns told her she can't make those kinds of comments while driving the bus. "If you are telling me that I can't share my views, then find somebody else to drive my bus," the superintendent said she replied.

Thompson, meanwhile, maintains he was sacked because her talk with Burns was abrupt and her suggestion to be replaced was quickly accepted.

"It's a matter of perception," she said. "It's very funny, I didn't think of it as resigning. They immediately dismissed me. I thought I was fired."

In a report that appeared in Thursday's Buffalo News, Thompson, 42, said the district dismissed her Nov. 8 for talking with the pupils about an article in which actor-filmmaker Mel Gibson said that more than 20 years of embryonic stem cell research had not resulted in any disease cures while more than 300,000 cures had been logged using adult stem cells. She also encouraged youngsters to pass the information along to their parents.

Some parents, however, became upset and complained to Ramming.

Thompson, founder of the Erie County chapter of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a political lobbying group and advocate for the Christian community, said it is her responsibility to provide pupils with educational information. "It's natural for me to share facts and educate," she said. "If I'm just supposed to be quiet and not say a thing, I'll be happy to go."

Ramming said the district does not allow such behavior, and employees have to be "politically neutral."

"There's a time and place for everything," he said. "We do teach about controversial topics in the classroom, using a valid approach, but not on a school bus."