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Ex-school bus driver claims termination connected to her son

By Staff | Jan 7, 2009

A Cape Coral mother says she spent most of 2008 struggling against the Lee County School District to secure rights for her 12-year-old son.
Karen Taylor also claims that she was fired from her job as a school bus driver for speaking out against the district on the handling of her son’s individualized education plan.
According to her employee performance assessment, she was fired for making threatening comments.
On May 20, Taylor received her yearly performance assessment from Transportation West Director Charles Dailey. She was assessed as “unacceptable” in regard to hearing criticism, exhibiting strong attitudes and communication.
Dailey’s comments within the assessment said “Karen is very argumentative and threatening and has displayed a very negative attitude.” Taylor refused to sign the assessment when it was presented to her.
Taylor’s son, Patrick, has an IEP with the school district for what she describes as a processing issue. As a student at Trafalgar Middle School he also was bullied by other students, she explained, and the administration did not take serious steps to correct the abuse.
“My son was threatened with a knife, he was bitten twice. He reported every incident because he was taught to by the code of conduct,” said Taylor.
According to a transcript she sent to all five members of the Lee County School Board and Superintendent James Browder, incidents of bullying were reported but nothing was done. Furthermore, Taylor described some of the administrative responses as “Patrick, you’re a waste of my time, move on,” or shallow promises that the bullies would be dealt with.
Recently, the local law firm Morgan and Morgan filed a lawsuit on her behalf against the school district related to the instances of bullying, she said.
Also the school district contacted Taylor to report that Patrick had been moved into a different math class called RESEARCH because he was earning lower grades, but she said she was surprised to find what the new class had her son doing.
“I went into the school and I asked for a lesson plan for the class they put him in,” she said. “He also said that in the RESEARCH class they were not teaching, that there were severely challenged students and that it was a baby-sitting class.”
Taylor said the class had no lesson plans and showed students movies such as “Honey I Shrunk The Kids” and “Goosebumps.”
On top of placing him in a different class, Taylor found that a meeting was held where school officials drafted Patrick’s IEP without notifying her, a legal requirement in the Individuals with Disabilities Act.
She claims that she was not afforded the opportunity to participate in an IEP meeting on Feb. 5, while officials from the school district said that she was given a written notice on Jan. 29 and Jan. 22.
“I had just found out that they had my son’s IEP without me,” she said. “Evidently they didn’t want me to do the IEP, they messed with his IEP. They didn’t have me there, didn’t invite me there.”
A guidance counselor contacted Taylor between Jan. 17 and Jan. 24, but her notes of the conversation show the discussion was on class schedules, not on an IEP meeting.
She said months after hearing nothing from the school district she sent a letter to the state’s Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services, who subsequently sided with Taylor. It outlined corrective actions that force the district to reconvene the IEP meeting by the end of this month and provide documentation to the state by April.
Taylor believes she was fired because of her actions against the district. She addressed the board Tuesday night, asking how it did not look after her son’s best interests.
According to correspondence she sent to the school board and superintendent, she met with Herbert Wiseman, director of Secondary Operations of Middle Schools, who transferred her son to Mariner Middle after repeated instances of bullying at Trafalgar Middle.
Before her son’s transfer she recorded a conversation between herself and Dr. Angela Pruitt, principal of Trafalgar Middle, as they discussed what was happening to her son.
Following her meeting with Wiseman, Taylor was called into Dailey’s office. She claims that Dailey asked if she had a recorded conversation with Pruitt, said he did not want to lose a good driver and then told her, “You need to back off now, immediately.”
Dailey later apologized and said his outburst was the result of a direct phone call between him and Wiseman, according to Taylor.
“I ask myself, ‘Why would a Lee County board administrator give privileged information to a man who directs busses?'” she said.