B U F F A L O N E W S
Bus driver loses job for discussing political issue with pupils
By EMMA D. SAPONG
News Northtowns Bureau
bus driver Julianne Thompson decided to shared what she considered
interesting information on stem cell research with elementary pupils and
encouraged them to pass it on to their parents.
They did, and days later Thompson, 42, was fired as a substitute school bus driver for the Grand Island Central School District.
She said she was told that her behavior was inappropriate and offered no further explanation.
A district official said he couldn't comment on Thompson's employment history with the district but said district policy doesn't allow discussion of political issues with students while employees are on duty.
Thompson said the bus conversation occurred with second- through fifth-graders on Nov. 1.
She said she only stated facts she considered age-appropriate and didn't share her opinions. The children were receptive and asked questions.
Thompson also said it was not uncommon for her to hand out "factoids" to pupils while transporting them.
But on Nov. 8, a district official told her that parents were upset about the discussion, and Thompson was let go.
Thompson said district officials also accused her of operating an unruly bus, which she denies.
"In the midst of all the misplaced outrage, is the story of the sad and disturbing success of a fraudulent social "conscience' that devalues life in favor of demonstrably failed science, wasting billions of dollars in the process, and one that pretends to champion tolerance, but punishes reasonable discourse," she said.
Thompson, who has been with the district for 21/2 years, said she is puzzled by her firing and is consulting lawyers.
She said she read an interview where actor/producer Mel Gibson explained that more than 20 years of embryonic stem cell research had not cured any diseases but more than 300,000 cures had been found with adult stem cells.
She was floored by the information, which she thought was pertinent and warranted a discussion with the pupils, who could share it with their parents. "It's an important issue that everyone should know about," she said.
But Superintendent Thomas Ramming said employees are not allowed to have such conversations with students. The only exception is social studies, where political issues can be discussed without teachers advocating their opinions.
"You can say anything you want as a private citizen when you are off duty," Ramming said.
Thompson said she was not aware of such a policy and it wasn't in her contract. Some months ago, a district official told her to remove a pro-President Bush sticker from her bus's windshield because it obstructed her vision but didn't tell her about the district's policy.