NEW PALESTINE — A former Southern Hancock School District bus driver who had her Indiana School Bus Certification — commonly referred to as a yellow card — taken away in late October, did not get the result she wanted following an appeal hearing last week with state officials.
Lorrie Hamilton, who had worked for the district for more than 15 years as a bus driver, lost her yellow card after district officials say she operated her bus unsafely during bus stops, texting several times while behind the wheel, a violation of state law.
An appeal hearing was held last week and, despite the outcome by state officials, a handful of family and supporters of Hamilton spoke about their displeasure surrounding her dismissal at the school board meeting, Monday, Dec. 12. In the meantime, district officials say they are searching for a new transportation department leader.
According to a letter from the Indiana Department of Education, district officials asked the state to look into a video tape of Hamilton while on duty. The letter, dated Nov. 10 stated, “you used your cell phone to text at three bus stops on May 13. Subsequently, you received a formal written reprimand, and no further action was taken. Then on October 26, you once again used your phone to text a parent while performing a bus stop. According to the district you were suspended pending an investigation and you were then terminated on October 28.”
State officials upheld the termination Tuesday, Dec. 6 after an appeal hearing with the Indiana State School Bus Committee. The appeal was requested by Hamilton, who officials say in a letter dated Wednesday, Dec. 7, delivered comments at the appeal surrounding her suspension.
State officials responded to the appeal hearing via a letter and stated, “After hearing comments from all interested parties, and questions from the committee members, the committee voted to uphold the revocation of your school bus driver training certification.”
Hamilton says her troubles started last May when she began having issues with a mechanic after she had been given a trip to drive students, one she claims the mechanic wanted but didn’t get.
While Hamilton said she was called to the administration building in July to discuss her driving, she was told she didn’t have to sign a complaint form because the issues discussed had happened several months prior. Hamilton said she signed the paperwork anyway not fully understanding that was an official warning about texting.
Hamilton maintains she was stopped whenever she did text and was targeted as well as called into the main office this past summer then eventually fired after complaining about a harassment issue in the bus garage involving a mechanic.
Hamilton said she had a scheduled appointment with corporation officials to discuss the harassment further in the fall, and then two days later, on Oct. 26, she was called into the office and fired for another texting incident surrounding a student who had been missed on a pickup.
Hamilton and her supporters say many bus drivers text safely to communicate with parents and officials at the bus garage and that Hamilton was singled out, with her case taken to state officials because of her harassment claim. Following the appeal hearing with state officials, Hamilton released the following statement:
“I have filed a formal written complaint with the EEOC for Retaliation, Harassment, and Discrimination,” Hamilton said via an email to the Daily Reporter. “I’ve also spoken with an attorney and am exploring my legal options against the Southern Hancock School Corporation.”
During Monday night’s school board meeting, a handful of Hamilton’s supporters attended with four expressing concern.
Beth Edwards told the board Hamilton transported her children for 11 years and was more than a bus driver. Edwards stated she’s frustrated with the firing as well as the corporation’s pace on Hamilton’s harassment claim.
“I ask that this board do it’s diligence for the community,” Edwards said. “Do what you’re elected to do and take a deeper look into the transportation department.”
Hamilton’s brother, Tim Hoffman, also spoke. He noted there are always two sides to every situation and said his sister has been targeted.
“It’s well known that the use of cells phones is a way of communicating and has been used for years including in management,” Hoffman said. “There’s records of hundreds of text from other drivers and the head of the transportation department, Bob Martin, out there so why is Lorrie Hamilton singled out?”
District officials note they cannot comment on personnel matters concerning the harassment allegation, but must stand by the decision of state officials who have upheld Hamilton’s termination. She can reapply for a new certificate in six months, state officials said.
Superintendent Lisa Lantrip said they are aware of the allegations made regarding the transportation department and have been actively investigating each report.
“Our administrative team and I will do our due diligence to be certain this issue is resolved fully and promptly,” she said in an email. “We know these types of allegations and investigations can sometimes be of significant public concern. However, we want to stress that investigative results or disciplinary actions taken as a result of an investigation cannot be shared.”
Communications Director Wes Anderson noted that Martin turned in his resignation this week and district officials are currently looking for a replacement.