Loudon board to meet on bus issue

Citizens group says effort is good first step

By Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com

The Loudon County Board of Education's decision to hold a meeting to discuss the screening of school bus drivers is a good first step toward student safety, according to a citizens group that wants to see the issue taken to a grand jury.

Board member Van Shaver called for the meeting at a board workshop Thursday night, almost a month after a Loudon school bus driver was arrested for driving under the influence and child endangerment.

Joe Webb, one of the founders of the Accountability Project, an organization of Loudon parents who are not satisfied with the school department's reaction to the incident, said he is not sure the school department can be trusted to investigate itself.

Former Loudon County District Attorney General Scott McCluen is representing the group, he said.

"We want to see a complete independent audit of the transportation system," Webb said. "Every one of the bus drivers needs to be vetted."

Webb said his group, which has set up an Internet site at accountability-project.net, would also like to see a grand jury investigate whether or not school department officials were criminally negligent in their handling of the issue.

In 2006, Webb convinced the grand jury to examine the actions of then-Loudon schools director Edward Headlee after a local fire marshal revealed that the school department had ignored hundreds of safety code violation over a period of years. The grand jury decided not to indict Headlee.

This time it is the new schools director, Wayne Honeycutt, and assistant director Gil Luttrell who are accused of negligence.

According to Loudon police officer and school board member Scott Newman, both Honeycutt and Luttrell were notified that emergency medical services had visited the driver's home several times for drug overdoses in the weeks and months before her arrest.

School department officials have declined to comment publicly on the exact circumstances of their notification of the driver's problem and their subsequent actions. Chuck Cagle, an attorney for the Tennessee School Board Association representing Loudon County, said correct procedures were followed.

Honeycutt said Thursday night that he was not opposed to the idea of holding a hearing to review the bus driver management practices, but he would prefer to wait until blood tests on the driver were returned from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation before discussing the issues.

Board chairman Leroy Tate said he was concerned about pending litigation and would prefer to hold a review after any such litigation had concluded.

Newman was among the first to call for a special meeting to review the policies and procedures that allowed the woman to continue driving and to continue in her job as a cafeteria manager. He has since been joined by other board members, including Shaver and Bobby Johnson Jr., who said the issue was not properly handled.

Newman, Shaver and Johnson said they believe school officials had probable cause to legally remove the bus driver from her responsibilities based on the previous incidents at her home.

Webb, who said his group currently has about 20 members, could go even further than a public hearing and a grand jury investigation. According to the Accountability Project Web site, group members may purchase billboards at both ends of Loudon County to publicize their complaints.