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Long IslandEducation

Student's photo leads to firing of bus driver

Melissa Disante, 13, of Dix Hills photographed a

Melissa Disante, 13, of Dix Hills photographed a school bus driver texting while driving her home. (May 28, 2010) Photo Credit: William Perlman

A Half Hollow Hills eighth-grader took a photo this week of a school bus driver that she said showed the driver texting at the wheel, the district said Friday.

The school district ordered the bus company, Copiague-based Educational Bus Transportation, to remove the driver from all district routes, and on Friday the company said that it had fired the driver.

Half Hollow Hills said the unidentified driver violated the district's zero tolerance for texting while operating a school vehicle and recommended that she not be allowed to drive children anywhere, said Victor Manuel, the district's assistant superintendent for finance and facilities.

The driver first was suspended without pay, said Timothy Flood, vice president and general manager for Educational Bus Transportation's parent company, The Trans Group, based in upstate Spring Valley. After conducting an investigation, Flood said, the company on Friday fired the driver.

"We do not condone texting or cell phone usage while driving," said Warren Gumbs, vice president of Educational Bus Transportation.

The eighth-grader, Melissa Distante, 13, of Dix Hills, said she was on her morning ride Thursday to West Hollow Middle School when she saw her regular driver texting while stopped at a red light.

"I thought, 'OK, we're not moving,' " Melissa recalled. "I figured I would keep an eye on her and I figured she would stop. . . . But when she started driving, she kept texting. She was steering with her wrists. She wasn't even holding the steering wheel.

"I sent a text to my dad and he told me to tell her to knock it off, but she is an authority figure and older so I was shy and didn't say anything."

Melissa snapped photos with her cell phone and sent them to her father, Paul Distante. The photos show a driver, buckled into her seat, holding something at the center of the steering wheel, with her wrists resting on the edge of the wheel.

Manuel said the driver had been responsible for three routes, ferrying students to Half Hollow Hills East High School, West Hollow Middle School and Signal Hill Elementary.

He said that under the district's policy, it doesn't matter if a driver texts while the bus is in motion or at rest.

"We have a zero-tolerance policy," he said. "They cannot use their cell phone while driving. It's just not a safe practice. We all know that. It's difficult to comprehend why this individual was doing that while driving a school bus."

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