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DeKalb Schools says drivers fired for sick-out can reapply for jobs

The DeKalb County School District will rehire the six remaining bus drivers who were fired in April after many of the district’s drivers staged a sick-out to address working conditions.

Sort of.

In a letter to the drivers, Superintendent Steve Green said a decision was made to let them reapply for their jobs. No guarantee of employment was in the letter.

“This letter shall serve as formal notice of my decision to allow you to reapply for employment with the DeKalb County School District,” the letter begins.

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According to the letter, those actually rehired would serve a six-month probationary period when they return. Any infractions during that period would result in disciplinary action up to, and including, termination. 

“As always, the goal is to ensure the students and staff of the district are provided safe and  secure transportation services,” Green continued. “The DeKalb County School District “remains committed to fostering a climate of civility, respect and mutual understanding and we look forward to your efforts in support of this goal.”

The sick-out was a three-day demonstration, with drivers calling in sick to bring attention to issues with salary, benefits and general treatment by district officials. The first day, April 19, nearly 400 of the district’s 900 full- and part-time drivers called out of work, which left the school district scrambling to retrieve hundreds of stranded students. Some school children sat at bus stops for hours, with many never picked up at all. 

Melanie Douglas, a fired DeKalb bus driver, reads a statement urging Superintendent Steve Green to reconsider recent terminations related to a driver sickout. (Marlon A. Walker / marlon.walker@ajc.com)

According to district numbers, its bus drivers serve about 66,500 riders on 899 routes at 17,500 bus stops daily. When Green arrived in 2015, he had to contend with conditions that included some routes with students standing in the aisles the whole way home.

Green, in an abruptly called press conference on the first day, said drivers would face consequences for the disruption, adding that all would need doctors’ notes in order to return.

"You have willingly put our students in harm's way," Green said then.

By the end of the day, seven drivers had been visited by district police officers, who handed each of them termination letters. The letter received by mail this week telling the drivers they can reapply for their jobs is somewhat an about-face from Green, suggesting he bowed to pressure from several DeKalb County Board of Education members who were never happy with the terminations.

One driver was rehired less than a month later, after it was determined she was fired due to mistaken identity.

Several meetings took place following the sick-out, including bus drivers meeting with administration officials as well as a demonstration May 19 at the Capitol. Drivers and supporters have remained a presence at school board meetings, including several voicing their support during public comments at Monday’s monthly meeting.

Marion Payne, one of the fired bus drivers, said thanks, but no thanks.

“”I’m gonna stay retired,” Payne said Saturday. “If you’ve got to reapply, you might as well go somewhere else. It sounds like you lose your seniority. This doesn’t even make any sense.”

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