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Several DeKalb Schools bus drivers say they were fired for calling in sick 

UPDATE (7:30 p.m.): The DeKalb County School District fired several bus drivers Thursday, apparently reacting to a sickout where about 400 drivers called off to protest what they say is unfair treatment.

The drivers, who missed work today citing sicknesses, said they received calls from a man representing the district at the end of the day.

“It was not a reason given for termination,” said Melanie Douglas, who has been a bus driver for 12 years. “He just told me Dr. Green has terminated your job. I’ve been out one day. You’re going to terminate my job with no rhyme or reason?”

Marion Payne said three DeKalb County Schools police officers delivered a termination letter to his Stone Mountain home within the last hour. It said the district received “reliable” information that he encouraged the sickout.

Payne, a driver for five years, said he passed out flyers for the sickout, mostly because he’s standing up for what is right.

“I’m a veteran,” he said. “I’m concerned for all the senior (drivers) ... retiring and getting $210 or $215 a month. But you know how it is, when they think you pose a threat.”

Douglas said she felt she and others were targeted for speaking out at a meeting Tuesday between Green and about 400 drivers.

“Because we have so much mouth on us,” she said, “they want us gone.”

District officials have not yet responded to calls confirming the terminations.

UPDATE (3 p.m.): District officials said they would be alerting some parents to expect their children home this afternoon up to 90 minutes later than normal, due to nearly 400 bus drivers calling in sick, a tactic to get district officials to address their issues with pay, retirement benefits and overall treatment.

THE EARLIER STORY:

DeKalb County School District Superintendent Steve Green had a stern message for the 400 or so bus drivers who called in sick Thursday: there will be consequences. 

"You have willingly put our students in harm's way," he said at a press conference called to address the sick-out.

Drivers called in sick amid worries their concerns about pay, retirement benefits and overall treatment were not being heard. 

Transportation managers said 383 of the district's 908 total drivers, including substitutes, called in sick Wednesday night and Thursday morning. According to district numbers, the district serves about 66,500 riders on 899 routes at 17,500 bus stops daily. 

Green said any driver who was not in attendance during the supposed three-day sick-out will be required to submit a doctor's note validating the missed time. District officials said though notes typically are not required for short illnesses, the superintendent does have the authority to ask for them.

As the school day broke Thursday, groups of DeKalb Schools students found themselves waiting at their stops.

District officials warned parents of the move via calls and emails Wednesday, telling them students might be delayed but would make it to school. With Georgia Milestones testing taking place, district officials said students would not be penalized for tardiness related to late buses.

Drivers could be out Friday and Monday as well, part of a planned three-day event.

Sheila Bennett, a bus driver representative, said she stayed home because she was feeling under the weather, but agreed district officials could do more for the bus drivers.

“It’s getting redundant,” she said. “We’ve been asking the district to work with us since 2015. The time is up.”

In 2015, drivers lined up to voice concerns to school board members after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported buses were so overcrowded that students were forced to stand during the ride.

“We’re among the lowest-paid in the district, yet we deliver the most precious cargo of all,” Bennett said then.

Green addressed the shortage then, several months after he arrived at the district, by reconfiguring some routes.

Bennett said Thursday morning about 400 drivers met with district officials Tuesday about a list of demands they have  including 6 percent step raises, cost-of-living increases, bonuses and a committee to investigate adverse actions by school administrations against drivers.

For people to say they weren’t aware of driver concerns is ridiculous, she said. “Yes, you were. It’s just too much and it’s gone on for too many years.

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