Tuesday, October 26, 2004

D.C. school-bus drivers for special-education students returned to work yesterday after a Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order to halt their illegal sickout over payroll issues.

Public-school officials yesterday said they had not disciplined any of the 260 absent drivers, who were required to submit notes from their doctors to excuse their absence to avoid being penalized a day’s pay.

“We’re in the process of reviewing the documentation that was submitted,” said Leslie Dews, assistant transportation administrator for the school system. “[We] requested the info today, and folks are still bringing things in, so we’re just waiting to see.”

The drivers’ action on Monday stranded about 600 of the city’s 3,800 special-education students at their homes and forced school officials to cancel or reassign 105 bus routes. It also forced many parents to scramble to get their children to school or keep them home for the day.

The school system has about 1,300 bus drivers, and about 80 call in sick on any given day.

Superior Court Judge Robert S. Tignor issued the restraining order at 6:20 p.m. Monday after a hearing involving the D.C. attorney general’s office, school officials and union representatives for the drivers.

The order will remain in effect until Nov. 5.

David Gilmore, the school system’s court-appointed transportation administrator, said Monday that some drivers who did not submit a doctor’s note could be fired.

“If Mr. Gilmore is trying to bully anybody, let him come bully me,” said George T. Johnson, executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1959, the union representing the drivers.

Mr. Johnson said many months have passed since the school system promised to pay drivers for compensation they had earned, but the payments have never been made.

“They have a lot of backpay coming,” Mr. Johnson said of the drivers.

The school system announced that it “is committed to resolving any outstanding pay issues that may have led to the higher absenteeism,” said public-information officer Roxanne Evans.

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