Attorney says no policies were violated

Author: Mary E. Hinds News Hearld

More than a month after a Loudon County Schools bus driver was arrested for driving a school bus while reportedly intoxicated, county school officials answered questions about the incident. Questions were avoided at the last school board meeting and workshop on the grounds that litigation could be pending.

Vicky Lynn Kwasny, 48, was arrested Sept. 30 after she was found slumped over the wheel of Bus #9. There were children on the bus at the time of the incident. She was reportedly taking a prescription drug when arrested.

In the following days it was discovered she had overdosed on the same medication before and that Loudon Police Officer and board member Scott Newman had informed school officials of those incidents before she was arrested for the DUI incident. Newman confirmed this version of events during the meeting.

Wednesday night at a special called meeting the board discussed policies and procedures surrounding hiring and drug testing bus drivers in general and, gingerly, discussed the specific incident involving Kwasny.

Chuck Cagle, the attorney for the school board and Dr. John D. Sanabria, the physician who examines many bus drivers for the county, also attended the meeting to answer questions. Cagle cautioned the board about discussing the Kwansny incident in too much detail “because of legal action that is pending.” He urged the board to stick to policies and procedures.

Board member Van Shaver said the incident had already been discussed in the media many times, including a mention on ABC Television, and he was determined to know what school administrators knew about the driver’s history of overdosing, when they knew it and whether or not officials gave the go ahead for Kwasny to continue driving after they had knowledge of her history. “What policies are in place that allowed this incident to happen,” Shaver asked.

Board Chairman Leroy Tate again cautioned the board about becoming too specific in their discussion of the incident. He said “the individual has rights” and “the wrong moves” could find the board on the hook for damages and/or the board could be denied insurance. “Employees have broad rights that should not be discussed in this arena,” agreed Cagle. He also told Shaver that it would be nearly impossible to write a policy to ensure something similar never occurred again. He also noted that bus drivers are the employees of the bus owners not of the school system. Shaver asked Cagle if a suit had actually been filed and Cagle said no suit had been filed.

Sanabria addressed the board about the procedures he follows to screen bus drivers physically and mentally before giving them the go ahead to drive children. He said he is dependant on the drivers themselves informing him of what medications they are taking. “They’re supposed to tell me a lot of things,” he said including other doctors they have seen. He also noted that the standard five panel screenings for drugs only pick up illicit drugs and are not geared for prescription drugs.

After much discussion about drug screenings Shaver got to the point of the matter. “Did anybody know we had a bus driver with serious drug issue and continue to employ them?” Shaver asked.

Loudon County Schools Transportation Director Gil Luttrell then took the floor. He acknowledged that “the day after Labor Day” Newman had informed him of Kwasny’s earlier overdoses and “within two hours” she had been sent to Sanabria for a “fit for duty drug screen.” Sanabria agreed saying, “within hours she was in my office.” He said he had spent 45 minutes with Kwansy and when he was done “I gave Mr. Luttrell the ok. I did not see this as a person who was abusing medication,” he concluded. He went on to explain that he felt the driver understood that her medication was only to be used when she would not be operating a bus.

Gentry informed the board that Luttrell had followed the policy in place when he followed the doctors recommendation to allow Kwansy to continue to drive a bus.

Newman addressed the statement issued by school administrators at the time of the DUI incident. The day it occurred Loudon County Schools released a statement announcing the driver of Bus # 9 had “became ill and unable to finish the route.”  No mention of DUI or police involvement was included in the announcement. The statement went on to say “the situation is currently being investigated and a new driver has been assigned to the route.”  This statement was sent to the press and to board members.

Newman said Luttrell had also told members of the press he could not confirmed she had been arrested when he “knew law enforcement was on the scene” when the driver was taken into custody.
 Newman said he had a problem with what appeared to be an attempt to cover up the incident.
Luttrell claimed he had been misquoted by media sources Board member Craig Simon, who is knowledgeable about such policies several questions of Gentry about ways to tighten up the board’s polices in that arena throughout the meeting. Board member Bill Marcus suggested Craig consult with Gentry and Sanabria and work on ways to fix any “holes in our policy.” Craig said he would be happy to do so and he suggested looking at the policies in place in Knox County and Nashville to use for comparison. The trio agreed to discuss the matter and to report back to the board at next week’s board meeting.

Gentry said he would recommend three changes. The first is to mandate bus owners and drivers attend orientation sessions to review policies. Second would be for the board to have the right to preform 10 panel drug screenings that detect a wider variety of drugs including many prescription medications and third to bring control of random drug testing into the Central Office.