Education

Former Scott County school bus driver files suit against former superintendent, police officer

Former Scott County Superintendent Patricia Putty
Former Scott County Superintendent Patricia Putty

A lawsuit brought by a Scott County public school bus driver against former school Superintendent Patricia Putty alleges malicious prosecution and defamation and names Georgetown Police Officer Ben Martin.

Superintendent Kevin Hub and Assistant Georgetown Police Chief Robert Swanigan said they could not comment on pending litigation. Putty retired June 30.

Plaintiff Durbin Wallace was among 28 bus drivers who filed a grievance against Scott County schools Director of Transportation Roy Prince in March 2014. The grievance, obtained by the Herald-Leader, said Prince drew a penis on a flip chart during a profanity-filled mandatory meeting and spent the months afterward harassing drivers who expressed concerns. Putty, according to a letter to a bus driver signed May 2014, said she had investigated the driver’s complaints but she found no fault in Prince and he would not be sanctioned.

Prince and Mark Wickersham, director of school safety, no longer work for the school system, Hub said Thursday. He added he was “vaguely” aware of the grievance but said he had no knowledge that Prince’s retirement was tied to any earlier events.

Hub took over as superintendent July 1 and Prince retired July 2, Hub said. Hub had previously been superintendent in Logan County.

During his first board meeting as superintendent on July 21, Hub announced that the bus driver’s lounge, which had been closed since the fall semester of 2014, would be reopened. The action was part of his effort to consolidate the transportation department into a single building and “improve the culture” but was not tied to any previous events, Hub said.

Prince will be on paid leave until Oct. 1 but will not be involved in the day-to-day operation for the transportation department. A search is underway for a new transportation leader, Hub said.

Wickersham, who came to the district in 2014, had previously been an assistant county attorney in Madison County. Wickersham resigned July 29 from Scott County Schools, Hub said. Wickersham will not be replaced; instead his responsibilities will be distributed to other school employees, Hub said.

Wallace was charged with assaulting a child on a bus on Sept. 2, 2015. In a WLEX-TV report, Heather Phinney was interviewed at that time and said that her 5-year-old had been assaulted by Wallace on a Scott County school bus traveling from Western Elementary. The arrest warrant, issued by Martin, said Wallace grabbed the child “by the neck with enough force to bang the child’s head against the bus window.” And that the child had been forced into a different seat. The incident was caught on video, the warrant stated.

At the time, according to the WLEX report, Putty put out a statement that said, “I’m appalled by this situation and will do everything I can to ensure the welfare of our students.”

Wallace was arrested on Sept. 3. Court records show Wallace was fired by the school district on Sept. 17, 2015. Ultimately, the original charge of child abuse was amended to harassment and Wallace was found not guilty in a jury trial in February 2016, according to records from Scott District Court.

The bus drivers’ grievance also alleged a pattern of harassment by Prince of those drivers by threatening termination over seemingly minor offenses ranging from eating french fries on a bus to posting critical comments about the transportation department on Facebook.

In March 2014, the grievance said, Prince wrote in a transportation department newsletter that “the drivers have lost touch and have attitude problems.”

In May 2014, Putty said she found no violation of policy. When the drivers returned to work in August 2014, the lounge where they could stay between bus runs was closed. The drivers continued to seek support through 2015 when a complaint was followed with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

The school district responded to the EEOC by claiming that Prince “may have drawn a series of lines or scratches on a flip chart while telling a story about teaching the male reproductive system years ago.” There was further no proof that Prince “actually drew a penis.” That argument was summarized in an EEOC letter in February 2015. The EEOC took no action.

Also in February 2015, the Scott County School Board announced they would not be renewing Putty’s contract.

On July 29, former Scott County school employee Ashley Hughes filed a whistleblower lawsuit claiming she was forced to work in an unheated warehouse and ultimately fired after she refused to put a working laptop computer onto a list of surplus property. Hughes had worked in the information technology department before she was fired April 29. She is suing Putty, the district and Chief Information Officer Sheila Setser.

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